As a Clinical Nutritionist, one of the questions that I get frequently asked about in my practice is ‘do I need a multi-vitamin?’ Of course, we can all cite people that we know or hear about, who appear to be healthy and vibrant, and live to be a good age, but who are most definitely nutrient-depleted. To be honest, these people are actually few and far between when we look at the UK population as a whole, so why play Russian roulette with your health when you don’t have to?
So, the next question is inevitably, ‘why can’t I get everything I need from my daily diet?’ And the answer is you can, but how perfect is your diet every day, or even every week? There are 27 vitamins and minerals that are deemed to be essential as they all have a minimum daily reference intake value, and, therefore, should be eaten daily. Additionally, there are trace minerals which are part of our body’s make-up, together with essential fats, which have to be eaten in sufficient quantities, because the body cannot make them.
What are some of the most common deficiencies?
Some of the most commonly deficient nutrients tend to be the minerals, magnesium, zinc and iron. In fact, it is estimated that at least 6% of women in the UK are having less than the recommended daily reference intake of iron. Part of the difficulty in getting these minerals is that people tend to shy away from eating dark green leafy vegetables, or seafood, where you can find them in abundance.
Additionally, low Vitamin D status amongst people living in the northern hemisphere has become a really hot topic of late. So much so, that the Department of Health has actually issued recommendations for supplementation in high risk groups, particularly children under 5. For the first time in many years, we are actually seeing cases of rickets – a disease caused by lack of Vitamin D – in children. Vitamin D is predominantly made on the skin in the presence of sunlight, which of course is certainly lacking for at least six months of the year, in certain parts of the world.
Here are seven reasons why you should consider taking a multi-vitamin and replace some of the lost nutrients:
- Many nutrients, particularly the B Vitamins, Vitamin C and Magnesium are depleted by stress – the curse of our modern age
- The soils in which our foods are grown are nutrient-depleted, particularly in Selenium, which is a key antioxidant mineral
- The Western diet is high in refined food; that means foods such as white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and pastries – in other words low nutrient value foods. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed the population was still eating too much fat, added sugar and salt and not enough fruits, vegetables, oily fish and fibre, which of course are nutrient abundant.
- Fortified foods are enriched with nutrients, after the naturally occurring ones are removed by processing, therefore, they are still lacking many essential vitamins and minerals
- Certain foods such as black tea, spinach, bran-based foods and beans all contain high levels of phytates. There are some positive health benefits associated with phytate foods but they also deplete important minerals, particularly iron, of which we tend to be deficient in any case.
- People who use low-calories diets to lose weight will be nutrient deficient. It is impossible to consume sufficient vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats in these situations, but particularly where calorie intake is less than 1500 calories a day. Plus, if people are eating ready-made low calorie meals, they will also be nutrient starved!
- Even with the best of intentions, very few people are able to eat the ‘perfect’ daily diet, due to time constraints, availability of foods, financial burdens, or lack of knowledge. In fact, we have information overload in terms of what we should or shouldn’t be eating, and many people are totally confused.
One other point to bear in mind is that it is generally unwise to take specific vitamins or minerals in isolation or without taking a multi-vitamin as well, or unless under the guidance of a Nutritionist. Nutrients work in synergy and you can sometimes cause further deficiencies by overloading on one specifically.
It is always best to take your multi-vitamin in the morning, with food, so that you can gain the benefits of the energising B Vitamins for example, and not be over-stimulated when you are trying to sleep.
And finally… try to be consistent. Results of taking a daily multi-vitamin will not be felt overnight – sustained intake is the key.
Here’s to health!