By Corin Sadler
As a Nutritional Therapist, it goes without saying I am an advocate of eating a healthy diet. As you would expect I love a bowl full of salad or a plateful of veggies, have a healthy respect for wholegrains and enjoy a legume or two, but does this mean I am getting all the vitamins and minerals I need?
The nutrient deficit
Long-term studies suggest I may not be getting as much as I think. Take the average carrot. Research shows that our modern day carrot contains 75% less magnesium than it did in the 1940s. It’s a similar story with broccoli, which on average has 75% less calcium, whilst these days the humble potato contains a third less potassium. Research also shows other minerals, including magnesium and iron, are simply not at the levels they used to be in many of our foods.
Not music to my ears. I, like most people, want to be healthier and happier. So why the drop?
Over-farming, soil depletion, use of trace element-free fertilisers and reduced levels of fungi, which help liberate essential nutrients from the soil, are all known to play a part. In a nutshell - If the nutrient isn’t in the soil, it can’t get into the crop.
Poor choices can add to the picture.
Here in the Western World we are at risk of consuming an energy rich but nutrient poor diet i.e. plenty of calories but not enough nutrients. Many men and women are not reaching the recommended intake for vitamin D, selenium or potassium, and the average women’s intake of magnesium and iron also falls below recommended levels.
Now, I love my veg but some days even the most virtuous of us struggle to meet our five a day, or our oily fish quota (it turns out we are not a nation of fish lovers, most of us falling far short of the government recommendation of 140g of oily fish a week) meaning intake of whatever micronutrients, omega 3 and all the other lovely goodies these everyday foods do contain might also be less than ideal.
Hectic lifestyles, mine included, also add to the picture - when we are stressed or just very busy we use up B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin C much more rapidly, the same too if we live in areas of higher pollution.
Did you know?
One fifth of adults in the UK aged 19-64 have low blood levels of vitamin D
Choosing refined foods drastically cuts your intake of vitamin nutrients. Refining wheat, for example, removes 95% of vitamin E, 85% of magnesium and 70% of iron. The result - that bowl of white pasta is way down the league tables in terms of its nutrient hit. Choose wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice and whole oats to give your nutrient status a boost.
Making sure you are getting enough
I always encourage making healthy food choices to maximise nutrient intake: eating a plethora of rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables, swapping to wholegrains, eating omega 3 sources, whether it be fish or flax seeds, and choosing good quality protein. Cutting down on sugar and alcohol, which deplete the body of valuable nutrients, is good practice too.
Choosing organic is also beneficial - organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 60% more key antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts, whilst organic meat contains around 50% more omega 3 than its non-organic cousin.
Once your diet is optimised, a multivitamin and mineral is a great way to ensure you are not falling short of the many nutrients needed for each and every system in the body, from your immune system, to your skin, bone and brain function. Vitamin D is always on my must-take list too. Unless you are an avid oily fish fan or take flax seeds daily I almost always suggest an omega 3 supplement, so vital are these essential fats to our health, especially if your skin is dry, you have any kind of inflammation or your mood or concentration is low.
Of course, I will always work to make food my primary source of nutrients but life isn’t perfect so I have my daily nutrient fix at breakfast - that way I don’t forget once I am into the hurly burly of my day. I often like to call to mind a phrase an old friend used to say to me: ‘Look after your body - where else are you going to live?!’
Good advice don’t you think?