THE BLOG

Is A 'Quick-Fix' Approach To Our Health Leaving Us Deficient In Real Nutritional Knowledge?

19/04/2017 14:27

I am often asked if we can really get all the nutrients we need from eating a healthy diet, or if in fact we should take extra vitamins and minerals in the form of supplements to meet the required amount our bodies need on a daily basis. The supplement market continues to grow and market researcher Mintel recently revealed that nearly half of Brits are now using vitamin and mineral supplements. [1] There are many reasons why a person may choose to take a supplement and in some circumstances their use is actively recommended such as folate for pregnant women, vitamin D for babies and children under the age of four, and vitamin B12 for those following a vegan diet. In the UK we can only make vitamin D from skin exposure to sunlight between the months of April and October, and with increased use of strong sun creams and people actively avoiding the sun, taking a vitamin D supplement may soon be recommended for all.

However, I believe education is key to people being able to make good food choices to meet their recommended daily amounts (RDAs) for nutrients rather than habitually relying on supplements, especially if they are being used as an 'antidote' to eating badly. A new survey commissioned by the British Fruit Juice Association quizzed 2,000 British adults on their knowledge of essential nutrients. 68% could not name the correct sources of vitamins A and E in the diet and, on average, 63% could not correctly identify the benefits of key vitamins A, E and C. The study also looked at how parental knowledge of nutrition affected the diets of children. Although a daily 150ml portion of pure fruit juice counts as one of your five-a-day, 17% of those surveyed said they never give their children pure fruit juice and a substantial majority (94%) of parents surveyed did not know that a 150ml glass of orange juice contains all your RDA of vitamin C. [2] It seems that as life moves faster than ever before and there are demands on us from every angle; be it related to work, family or health, it is easy to see why people seek the "quick-fix" offered by supplements when it comes to getting the right nutrients.

But why does this matter? If vitamins are being taken irrespective of nutritional knowledge, why should the BFJA's findings be a cause of concern? What's important to me is helping to educate people on proper nutrition and the best sources of key vitamins and minerals, while acknowledging that we can't always expect to tick all the boxes, all of the time. If people are relying on supplements rather than investing time to understand proper nutrition, I would like to try and change that.

At a time when we are subject to nutritional and health advice from so many sources, from our social media feeds to newspapers and magazines and via celebrity endorsement, any dietician or registered nutritionist will agree that nutritional advice can be confusing and occasionally even contradictory. But consciously taking an interest in different foods, what nutrients they contain, and what purpose these nutrients serve in the body encourages us to be more mindful about our diet and sets an example to young people to do the same.

Getting all the vitamins and minerals we need from our diet does not have to be difficult (I've even listed some simple tips to help boost natural vitamin intake below) but meeting those RDAs is essential to good health and deserves our full attention.

Tips to boost natural vitamin intake:

Vitamin C
Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body protecting cells from damage from oxidation processes in the body. It is an important nutrient for the immune system which fights off invading bacteria and viruses and protects against disease. Vitamin C is needed for healthy skin as it is involved in the production of collagen, a protein needed for wound healing. It also has an important role in helping the body to absorb iron from plant foods such as cereals and pulses.

The richest sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit (oranges and grapefruits) and their juices, peppers and kiwi fruit. Other good sources include broccoli, berries, melon, tomatoes and potatoes.

Vitamin A
One form of vitamin A is beta carotene which acts as antioxidant in the body and is especially important for healthy skin as it is able to scavenge and neutralise free radicals. Free radicals can cause damage to skin cells and our skin is exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun. Beta carotene is the red-orange pigment that gives fruit and vegetables their bright colours. It can be converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A has an essential role in the immune system and is needed for the healthy growth of the body's cells. The richest sources of beta-carotene are colourful fruit and vegetables such as carrots, peppers, tomatoes, mangoes, apricots, butternut squash. Green leafy veg such as watercress and spinach also provide plenty of beta carotene.

Folate
Folate is a B vitamin needed by the body to make DNA and other genetic material. Folate is needed for the body's cells to divide. The best sources are vegetables, fruit and juices, especially oranges and orange juice. A 150ml of fruit juice provides about a quarter of the recommended daily amount.

References:
[1] http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/social-and-lifestyle/vitamin-and-supplements-market-in-good-health-46-of-all-brits-are-daily-users

[2] Survey of 2,003 UK adults conducted by Censuswide and commissioned by the British Fruit Juice Association (February 2017)

Dr Sarah Schenker is currently working with the British Fruit Juice Association

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