Vitamins and minerals are essential for health. However, worrying shortfalls in these nutrients exist in the UK.

While a good diet should in theory be able to protect us from nutrient shortfalls, very few of us are eating a good diet. Only 28% of Britons eat five portions of fruit and veg a day. People are not following government-backed healthy eating guidelines. In fact, evidence shows that fewer than 1% of the UK population are following all the nine UK Eatwell recommendations, which is bad news for our health and diets,[1] including our nutrient intakes.  Plus, more than half of our calories come from hyper-processed, often nutritionally depleted, food.[2]

Many people, especially women, have lower than recommended intakes of key nutrients including B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iodine and iron and potassium. Multivitamin and multimineral supplements help to boost nutrient intakes and those who take supplements are more likely to meet vitamin and mineral recommendations than those who don’t.[3],[4]

Why Do We Need Vitamins And Minerals?

Here are just some of the many reasons as to why our bodies need the right nutrients to fuel our bodies daily.

Vitamins And Minerals

B Vitamins

B vitamins make energy available to the body from food. They work together in the body and help to reduce tiredness and fatigue. Vitamin B12 is essential in the functioning of the nervous and immune systems; red blood cell formation and ribonucleic acid (RNA – essential for most biological functions including transmission of genetic material) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA – carries genetic information) synthesis.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is a B vitamin and essential during pregnancy for efficient neural tube development which forms the brain and spinal cord. Taking extra folic acid at the time when the neural tube is forming can reduce the chance of the baby having a neural tube defect. Women are advised to take folic acid for 12 weeks prior to conception and to continue taking folic acid supplements until the 12th week of pregnancy. Two thirds of women are not taking a folic acid supplement before pregnancy.[5]  In addition, folic acid is essential for the formation of red blood cells Folic Acid also contributes to brain health, immune function as well as helping to reduce tiredness and fatigue.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C acts as an anti-oxidant, neutralising free radicals to protect cells. Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen and other constituents of bone, teeth and capillaries. It aids wound healing. It is also necessary for the function of several enzymes and it increases the absorption of iron in the gut. Vitamin C may have a role in protecting against the common cold.  It also helps contribute to normal energy metabolism and nervous system function and reduces tiredness and fatigue.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb and use calcium and phosphorus; which are essential for maintaining strong and healthy bones and teeth, as well as other body functions such as heart and muscle function. Vitamin D is also important for blood clotting, the immune system and muscle growth, development and function. One in five people in the UK are deficient in vitamin D.[6]

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Calcium also plays a role in muscle contraction, including the heart muscle; facilitates nerve transmissions; is involved in energy production and cell division and is used in the blood clotting mechanism. Over 20 per cent of 11–18-year-old girls and 10 per cent of adult women have below Lower Reference Nutrient Intakes – LRNI.

Magnesium

Magnesium is needed for the formation of many enzymes in the body which release energy from food. It is also vital for the nervous system, muscle movement and for the formation of healthy bones and teeth. Magnesium also helps contribute to electrolyte balance and is required for protein synthesis. Almost half (47 per cent) of 11–18-year-old girls and 11 per cent of adult women have below LRNI intakes.

Selenium

Selenium is part of an antioxidant system. It protects the body’s cells from damage and helps maintain the body’s defence system. Selenium also works in conjunction with vitamin E and is a component of many enzymes. Plus, selenium helps contribute to sperm formation, is important for thyroid function, immunity, as well as helping to keep hair and nails healthy. Low intakes of selenium are a serious issue. A total of 41 per cent of 11–18-year-old girls, 46 per cent of working age women, and 59 per cent of older women have below LRNI intakes.

Vitamins And Minerals

Iodine

Iodine is an essential trace element used to form thyroid hormones (thyroxine and tri- iodothyronine), which regulates our metabolic rate. Iodine is needed for normal growth and development – especially of the brain and central nervous system. It also contributes to function of the immune system and helps keep skin healthy. Iodine is vital during pregnancy but 28 per cent of 11–18-year-old girls and 12 per cent of adult women have below LRNI intakes.

Iron

Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin which is present in red blood cells. Haemoglobin is being formed in the body all the time and is the substance in red blood cells that transports oxygen around the body. Iron also contributes to normal energy metabolism, cognitive and immune function and to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Almost half of girls aged 11–18 years and 25 per cent of women aged 19–64 have intakes of iron below the LRNI, which increases the risk of iron deficiency anaemia.

Potassium

Potassium is important for the normal functioning of cells and helps to keep the nervous system and muscles working as they should, as well as keeping blood pressure on an even keel. Among 11–18-year-old girls 37 per cent have an intake below the LRNI with 24 per cent of working age women having similarly low intakes

Zinc

Zinc is an important part of many enzymes, some of which have key roles in the formation of new proteins – one of the processes involved in tissue growth. Zinc is required to aid growth of the immune cells plus maintenance of hair, skin and nails. Superoxide dismutase (a powerful antioxidant enzyme that neutralises potentially damaging free radicals) requires zinc. Zinc is also essential for reproduction. Almost one in five (18 per cent) of 11–18-year-olds and 6 per cent of adults have zinc intakes below the LRNI.

Omega 3 fish oils

Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) have an important function in cells and generally have an anti-inflammatory effect compared with omega-6 fatty acids. DHA is particularly concentrated in the cells of the brain and retina. It is needed for brain, eye and heart health and is particularly important during a baby’s development. EPA is important for heart health. They are obtained from oily fish (e.g. sardines, salmon, mackerel) but intakes in the UK low (56g weekly in adults) compared with the recommended 140g weekly.

Who benefits from food supplements?

A good diet should be recommended to achieve recommended nutrient intakes. However, given the shortfalls in vitamin and mineral intakes particularly in women, a daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement would be common sense in order to bridge the dietary gaps.

Children Aged 6 Months To 5 Months

The NHS recommends that pre-school children take vitamins A, C and D each day. This is particularly important for children who are faddy eaters as they might be missing out on important nutrients.

Teenage Girls

Research shows that teenage girls can struggle to meet their nutritional needs through diet (see above). Half of all girls fall below the recommended intake of iron and many can be short on magnesium and B vitamins needed to support healthy skin and mood.

Vitamins And Minerals

Women Who Are Pregnant/Trying For A Baby

A multivitamin and multimineral formulated to top up important nutrients such as folic acid is important for women trying for a baby and during pregnancy. The baby gets first call on all nutrients so it’s important to make sure the mother is getting enough nutrients for her own health.

Women In Menopause

A good diet will help a women’s body through hormonal changes but a multivitamin can help to support a woman’s health at this time. Multivitamin and multiminerals are available which are formulated specifically for mid-life.

Vegans

The NHS recommends that people who have a vegan diet should take a supplement containing vitamin B12. People who follow a vegan diet are also at risk of low intakes of iron, calcium, iodine, selenium and zinc. They can be recommended a multivitamin/mineral containing B12 to make sure all vitamins and minerals are topped up.

Choosing A Supplement

Choose a multivitamin and multimineral formulated to your age and stage of life (e.g. children, pregnancy, over-50s). Children need lower doses of nutrients and women planning a pregnancy need higher folic acid and lower vitamin A, vitamins for example.

Supplement Labels

Food supplement labels list the ingredients included in the product and give the proportion of the NRV value (% NRV) that is contained within the supplement e.g. vitamin C, 80mg, 100% NRV).

NRV is an abbreviation of ‘Nutrient Reference Value’. NRVs are set for 13 vitamins and 14 minerals for the purposes of food labelling and are EU guidance levels on the daily amount of vitamin or mineral that the average healthy person needs to prevent deficiency.

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