Female nutrition: five of the best nutrients for women

A group of women of all agesThe body needs a wealth of nutrients on a daily basis. In actual fact, it needs a whopping 45, including water! That’s not always easy to achieve everyday which is why a balanced and colourful diet, as well as some supplementation, is key for all-round good health.

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However, when it comes to female nutrition there are definitely some nutrients that women need to prioritise.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top vitamins and minerals for women to keep your health on top form!

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is involved in the production of haemoglobin which is the protein in the blood that carries oxygen around – clearly a fundamental body requirement! However, it’s also really key in the production of a range of hormones, particularly relating to mood.

Most importantly for women Vitamin B6 has a hormone-balancing effect. Many women have found relief from unpleasant symptoms of PMS, particularly breast tenderness and mood swings, by upping their intake. And for those ladies trying to conceive, vitamin B6 helps produce progesterone needed for the corpus luteum (the early stage of pregnancy) and for pregnancy to be maintained.

A range of foods containing Vitamin B6

Whilst vitamin B6 is fairly widely available in foods including beef, poultry, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans and bananas, many women can still benefit from a top-up via a high quality multivitamin. Plus, it’s water-soluble so is quickly excreted from the body – even more reason it’s needed on a daily basis.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is affectionately known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because the sun is our best source and it is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us living in the UK there is not enough sun around between October and April to ensure we get enough of this essential vitamin. One of the reasons why people (and especially women) can feel low in the winter months is due to a lack of vitamin D.

Vitamin D is also important for immunity and absolutely key for healthy bones and this becomes even more important for women as they approach menopause and beyond. Peak bone density is reached at around 25 years of age, therefore girls really need to be mindful of their vitamin D intake during their early years in order to prevent future problems. If good bones aren’t built in our younger years, they’re only going to deteriorate as we get older.

A range of foods containing vitamin D

During the winter months, we certainly can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and food sources (oily fish, eggs, cheese, dairy and fortified foods) contain very limited amounts. A daily supplement containing at least 10 micrograms is, therefore, essential. This is also the recommendation from Public Health England.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are also called ‘essential fats’ and for good reason. The body can’t make omega-3 fats so they need to be eaten very regularly. This may not be good news if you don’t like oily fish as this is the best source. However, food supplements are readily available, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Omega-3s are crucial for balancing hormones. Additionally, as they have a potent anti-inflammatory action, they can really help in cases of heavy and painful periods, fibroids, endometriosis and PMS. So stock up on salmon (wild if possible), sardines, mackerel or vegetarian sources of omega-3s, to keep your hormones in good balance.

Zinc

Whilst it’s key to overall health for both sexes, due to its role in around 300 different enzyme reactions, having sufficient zinc is essential for women.

Zinc has a potent anti-inflammatory effect so it can really help ease period pains. Plus, it’s essential for healthy egg production and regulating monthly cycles. Furthermore, for ladies suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), zinc helps dampen down one of the enzymes that indirectly encourages the unwanted hair-promoting hormone – one of the unpleasant side effect of PCOS.

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

If you are struggling with skin problems, particularly acne, zinc helps to kill bacteria that promotes spots.

Good food sources are oysters and shellfish, red meat, poultry, nuts and beans.

Magnesium

The mineral magnesium, works in a triad with vitamin B6 and zinc in keeping women balanced hormonally. All these nutrients play key individual roles in our health (especially women’s) but they work particularly well as a team!

Another very busy mineral, magnesium is involved in many different enzyme reactions in the body. It’s especially helpful in cases of period pains, PMS and hot flushes; it works for women whatever your age. Importantly, it can help to relieve stress because it dampen downs the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Interestingly, magnesium is quickly depleted during times of stress, so even more is needed.A selection of green leafy vegetables

Eating a predominantly whole food and colour-rich diet (dark green leafy vegetables are rich sources of magnesium), will keep the body topped up with this very essential mineral.

So try to include these five key nutrients in your diet and keep your health on top form.

 

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Nutrition Tips: top three minerals and how to get them

DOuble exposure image of a woman running and meditating to represent healthy lifestyle

The body needs around 45 different nutrients everyday (including water) – that’s a staggering amount! Most of that number is made up of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals that are essential for health.

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Although they’re only needed in trace amounts, their importance in supporting our bodily systems should never be underestimated.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares three of the most important minerals and how to make sure you are getting enough.

Zinc

Zinc is one of the hardest working of all the minerals. Obviously, all minerals are essential and have their own particular areas of expertise. However zinc gets really involved in so many aspects of our health because it’s responsible for around 200 different enzyme reactions. Enzymes are usually proteins that speed up all chemical reactions within body cells and are absolutely essential for life. So, zinc is pretty key to our existence!

Whilst zinc is involved in so many body functions, its key roles are keeping the immune system in good shape and in wound healing. Zinc is also involved in sensory functions such as taste and smell, skin health and sexual function (especially the production of male testosterone).

A range of foods containing the mineral Zinc

To give a little more detail, zinc is involved in protein production and cell regeneration, hence its role in wound healing. Zinc supplementation can improve taste and appetite which is especially important in the elderly and in some cases for supporting those with eating disorders. It is also needed for the production of male hormones and sperm plus it can help reduce an enlarged prostate.

Good food sources of zinc include oysters and other shellfish, red meat, beans, nuts, oats and pumpkin seeds.

Calcium

Calcium wins a place on the leader board because it’s the most abundant mineral in the human body. It’s primarily known for healthy teeth and bones because around 99% of it is found in one or the other. Interestingly, if too much is found in the blood stream, this can lead to calcification or hardening of the arteries; balancing calcium with sufficient magnesium (see below) helps to prevent this occurrence, however.

Calcium is also involved in muscle contraction, regulation of the heartbeat and blood clotting. However, its role in bone building is probably the most important, therefore adequate dietary intakes are essential. Unfortunately osteoporosis (the disease causing loss of bone mass), is becoming increasingly common, partly due to poor diet. It generally affects women in greater numbers than men and there is a genetic link.

A range of foods containing calcium

The best dietary source of calcium is dairy produce. However, bone loss can increase when the diet is too acidic and any high protein food can exacerbate this problem. Therefore, whilst it’s important to eat dairy produce (natural yoghurts are great) or use calcium enriched plant milks, eating other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, all soya products plus nuts and seeds will create a good balance and help protect bone density.

Magnesium

Magnesium is the perfect partner to calcium in the bones, although only around 60% of the body’s magnesium is found there. The rest is found in muscle (hence its importance in muscle function) and soft body tissue and fluid. Magnesium is another very hard-working mineral and, just like zinc, is involved in numerous enzyme reactions, as well as a number of other really important functions.

Marginal deficiency of magnesium is actually quite common since it’s mainly found in whole foods and green leafy vegetables – another reason we need to be eating our daily greens! Low levels can make women more susceptible to Pre-menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps. Additionally, high blood pressure, muscle aches and pains, poor sleep and tiredness can all be caused by low magnesium intakes.

A range of foods containing the mineral Magnesium

The other problem is that it’s easily depleted by alcohol intake, the contraceptive pill and taking in too much calcium. It’s all about balance. The best way to try to ensure you’re getting enough is to try to eat primarily low glycaemic foods which are generally wholegrains, pulses and nuts and seeds. And, of course, those wonderful dark leafy greens should also feature very regularly on the plate.

So make sure you are getting enough of these hard-working minerals in your daily diet to support all these bodily systems.

 

 

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Nutritional resolutions for 2019: live your best life

 

Woman making soup

The start of a new year is always a brilliant time to make changes and improvements to life generally. However, it’s also the best time to re-think your diet and overall nutrition to see what could work better for YOU!

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It’s not always about re-inventing the wheel; where nutrition is concerned, sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares some of her favourite foods to fuel you up and keep you warm!

Drink more water

This one sounds so simple. However, you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel from just keeping the body properly hydrated. The body carries around 70-80% water. Of course, this is not ‘pure’ water because body fluids are made up of many different solutes; this is one of the reasons why athletes and recreational exercisers often use isotonic drinks to maintain good hydration levels. These drinks contain many of the electrolytes that are found in body fluids.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

The good news, therefore, is that you don’t need to only drink plain water. Think herbal and fruit non-caffeinated teas. Try water with slices of lemon, cucumber or apple. Give lemon and crushed ginger a go – there’s plenty to choose from. It’s also a great way to help alkalise the body. You can also try blending: add a few green leaves such as spinach, chard and parsley and drink this throughout the day to provide the body with chlorophyll, otherwise known as the ‘food of life’. Aim for around 1 ½ litres of water-based drinks daily. Your brain, skin, digestion, joints and mood will all massively benefit!

Eat more omega-3s

We need to eat omega-3s very regularly in the diet as the body cannot produce them. However, for those of you that don’t eat fish or nuts and seeds, you may be missing out on these essential healthy fats. Early tell-tale signs that you might be lacking are dry skin, constipation, low mood and joint aches and pains – evidence as to why they’re known as the essential fats.

A range of foods containing omega-3 fats

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best sources.   Good vegetarian sources are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and hazelnuts. However, if you’re not including any of these foods in your diet at least every other day, then you certainly need to take either a fish oil supplement or a vegetarian flax oil or similar.

Make soup

Soups are a really easy and delicious way of bumping up your daily nutrient intake. Various forms of cooking can rob vegetables of their nutrients but soup has the added advantage of retaining most of its nutrients in the ingredients.

Watercress soup

Some popular soup suggestions:

  • Chicken: great for treating colds and blocked noses and packed with protein
  • Lentil: perfect for vegetarians, filling, warming and a great source of fibre and energising B vitamins
  • Minestrone: classic Italian soup made with lots of fresh vegetables containing immune-boosting vitamin C
  • Bouillabaisse: a thick French fish soup containing omega-3s, vitamin C from the tomatoes, together with plenty of iron and protein

You can make up a big pot of soup and it’ll last for a few days when refrigerated or you can freeze it in batches and it can last you even longer! So why not make 2019 the year of the soup – your body will just love being loaded with more nutrients throughout the year.

Take a Vitamin D supplement!

Public Health England recommends that everyone should take a supplement of vitamin D during the winter months and more frequently for some ‘at risk’ groups. However, even though we generally get some exposure to sun (the best source of vitamin D) during the summer, the body may still need a supplement. Think of it as a cheap health insurance policy to make sure you are getting enough.

Vitamin D written in sand on a beach

Vitamin D is essential for the immune system as well as healthy bones and teeth and is especially important for growing bones. Additionally, people suffering from SAD and general low mood, are often low in vitamin D. Taking a daily supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of vitamin D is easy, cheap and very important.

Eat more fibre

Our typical highly refined western diet is normally always low in fibre. We should aim to eat around 30 grams of fibre a day from fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and whole foods such as beans and lentils.

Fibre is absolutely key for maintaining good digestion and to keep the bowels running smoothly. The body retains damaging toxins if it’s constipated. Additionally fibre is needed for heart health (the body eliminates bad cholesterol via the stools), effective weight management and for keeping our skin looking healthy and fresh.

A range of vegetables to represent fibre in the diet

 

Many of us, over the Festive period, will have dined out on sugary, low fibre foods. But with a fresh start to 2019, resolve to include much more fibre in your diet. Enjoy some wholegrain oats for breakfast, some wholemeal rolls or jacket sweet potatoes for lunch and some chicken with quinoa and vegetables for dinner, as a quick example of a healthier, more nutritious day!

So making some healthy nutritional resolutions in 2019 doesn’t need to be complicated but simple changes can be very effective. Happy New Year!

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Summer immunity: top tips for staying well this season

Summer is not generally the time when we think about supporting the immune system. However, summer colds and infections are still prevalent at this time of year. Plus, for those unfortunate allergy sufferers, having a tip-top immune system can help control the unpleasant symptoms.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top immune-boosting nutrients to keep you bug-free through the summer.

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VITAMIN C

Warranting its ‘top spot’ on the list of immune-boosting nutrients, Vitamin C is anti-viral and anti-bacterial so can help to keep unwanted invaders at bay. It’s also a nutrient that plays a key part in the control of the body’s release of histamine, so it can also help to manage the symptoms of allergies.

Vitamin C is easily destroyed in foods through storage, preparation and cooking. Therefore, eating raw fruits and vegetables ensures higher amounts of vitamin C are obtained from food. If you are cooking, lightly steaming vegetables is a much better way of retaining vitamin C. Frozen fruits and vegetables also make a good choice; they’re generally frozen quite quickly after harvest, hence more of their nutrient content is retained.

Summer is a great time for finding foods high in vitamin C as there are so many readily available. For example, strawberries are at their very best right now, as are other vitamin C-rich fruits such as blackberries and cherries. Vegetables including red peppers and broccoli are also great sources.

VITAMIN D

Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, and there’s certainly plenty of that around at the moment, we still need to keep vitamin D levels topped up all year round. It’s an immune-essential but not that readily available in foods. However, oily fish, beef, mushrooms and milk contain some vitamin D2; the body prefers vitamin D3 which is produced on the skin when exposed to sunlight and is available in good-quality food supplements.

Vitamin D production on the skin is blocked by high factor sun cream. Therefore, it is advisable to try to expose arms or legs to the sun for around 15 minutes a day if possible, before applying sun cream.

A supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D is recommended daily by Public Health England to ensure the body has sufficient levels and, most importantly, means you should be less susceptible to colds and infections during the summer months.

ECHINACEA

A well-known and loved herb, Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell production, which in turn can help support the immune system. If you’re susceptible to colds then it’s certainly worth taking Echinacea as a preventative remedy (as we know, prevention is always better than cure), particularly if you’re around people who are infected or if you are just starting to feel the first signs of a cold.

The herb is readily available in health food stores but always look for the THR symbol on pack; this stands for Traditional Herbal Remedy and means it’s a fully licensed herbal medicine, therefore the quality and efficacy of the herb can be guaranteed.

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A is another great supporter of the immune system. It is found in animal products but the body also produces it from beta-carotene as needed.

Foods such as meat, dairy and fish provide good sources of retinol-based vitamin A which is much easier for the body to utilise. However, the body can convert carotenoids such as beta-carotene (which is the best source of pro-vitamin A) from fruits, vegetables and nuts into Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain some of the highest amounts of beta-carotene and the body will convert it into Vitamin A when it is required.

ZINC

It’s the hardest working mineral within the immune system and indeed, it works pretty hard throughout the body. Zinc increases the production of immune cells, plus it helps produce natural killer cells which are needed to kill viruses and bacteria.

Zinc is found in animal and vegetable foods with spinach being the top plant-based source. Oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and kidney beans are all great providers of zinc. It’s best to try to include at least one of these foods in the diet each day. Alternatively, take a supplement containing zinc throughout the year to keep the immune system in good shape and avoid those annoying summer colds.

So don’t miss a moment of summer due to a cold: with a few simple diet tweaks you can prepare your body to be fighting fit.

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Pea power: discover the nutrients and health benefits

A bowl of fresh green peas and a pea pod

Peas are in season right now, so they’ll be tasting their very best and will deliver wonderfully healthy nutrients. They are a great summertime food and can be included in lots of different recipes. Moreover, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes as we’ll find out!

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us the low-down on peas.

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VARIETIES OF PEA

From the family known as Fabaceae, we are all acquainted with the traditional green pea. However, they also come as mange tout (often known as snow peas) and sugar snap peas. Peas can also be dried and are then usually called split peas. Peas are legumes, which are plants that bear fruit in the form of pods. Of course sugar snap peas and mange tout contain edible pods, whereas green or garden peas have a much tougher outer pod which isn’t usually eaten.

Green peas are very often eaten from frozen and are a ‘staple’ vegetable that most of us have in the freezer. From the moment they are harvested, peas start to lose their vitamin C content and their natural sugar content starts to be converted into starch. As freezing usually takes place very quickly after the pods have been picked, their chemical changes will be minimal. Frozen peas still contain far more nutrients than tinned peas, providing plenty of fibre, folate (great for the heart) and the bone-loving mineral, phosphorus.

OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS OF PEAS

All richly coloured fruits and vegetables contain wonderful health benefits, in particular, a wealth of antioxidant nutrients to prevent disease and to help hold back the years. However, peas in particular also contain high concentrations of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two nutrient jewels are known to protect eye health; they seem to block blue light from reaching the retina which can lead to macular degeneration. Moreover, these carotenoids promote good eye health generally and help maintain good eye sight long into old age.

Peas are also very low in fat, high in vitamin K (also good for the heart and bones), as well as energy-giving vitamin B1.

HOW TO ENJOY PEAS

Peas are most often eaten as a vegetable side dish, as are mange tout and sugar snaps, but they’re also great added to a summer frittata, which can be eaten hot or cold. Peas make wonderful soups either combined with ham or mint, and are an excellent addition to a summery seafood risotto. Sugar snaps are wonderful added to any green salad and mange tout is a great addition to stir-fries.

WHAT ABOUT SPLIT PEAS?

Split peas are actually dried peas; they split naturally once the skins are dried and removed and are often yellow in colour. They sometimes get forgotten when up against green peas, but they are still wonderfully nutritious. Clearly, enjoying fresh foods is certainly best but split peas provide really high amounts of fibre, so they help to keep the bowels moving.  Additionally, their high fibre content makes them very effective at reducing cholesterol levels. Furthermore, as with all legumes, they’re low on the glycaemic index meaning they keep blood sugar levels in check; this is especially helpful for those trying to lose some pounds.

Something about split peas which is not widely appreciated is that they are high in the trace mineral molybdenum, which helps detoxify sulphites. Unfortunately sulphites are widely used as preservatives in a variety of foods, particularly salads and prepared meats. People allergic to sulphites may suffer from headaches and other unpleasant ailments. However, having sufficient molybdenum stores in the body, will hopefully negate any of these problems.

WAYS WITH SPLIT PEAS

Split peas are great when used to make thick soups, stews, curries or broths containing strong flavoured foods such as chorizo. Importantly, as with other legumes, they are a very good vegetarian source of protein so can be used as a main meal in a dahl dish, for example.

Dahl can be made using tinned tomatoes, turmeric, onions, vegetable stock and curry leaves. It’s wonderful eaten on its own or as a side with some grilled fish or chicken.

So add more peas to your diet this season and enjoy the health benefits of this versatile vegetable.

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For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts

 

Nutritious meals on a budget

Balancing the weekly budget, particularly when you’ve a few hungry mouths to feed can sometimes be challenging.  It can be even more stressful trying to plan nutritious and tasty dishes when you’re stretched for time and money.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares some nutritious meal ideas that won’t break the budget.

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GLORIOUS GRAINS!

Whole grain foods are not only tasty, versatile and cost-effective, they’re super-healthy!  Grains that are effectively ‘whole’, have not been processed, therefore their nutritional profile has been kept intact. Whole grains are high in fibre which helps to keep the bowels moving regularly, reduces blood cholesterol, minimising the risk of heart disease, and helps to keep blood sugar levels in balance.

Grains can be the mainstay of many dishes.  Here are just a few ideas:

BULGUR WHEAT

Bulgur wheat is made from wheat kernels that provide a sweet nutty flavour.  Because it’s so tasty, bulgur wheat can be used as an alternative to rice eaten with stir fries or some poached salmon or grilled chicken.

BUCKWHEAT

Buckwheat pancakes can be whisked up in a minute and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love pancakes!  Whilst they’re great with strawberries and cream as a treat, they can actually make a really filling main dish – just add some ham, cheese and chopped tomato and you’ve got a great budget meal in minutes.

WHOLE WHEAT PASTA

Obviously pasta is a popular dietary staple.  But it ideally needs to be the wholegrain variety to be as nutritious as possible. Think tuna pasta bake, chicken with olives for a Mediterranean feel, feta and tomatoes or prawns with some crunchy stir fried vegetables.  Lasagne made with mince is also another great budget meal; if you make plenty it can be eaten the next day, heated up for dinner, as a cold lunch or frozen for another time.

The great news is that because there are so many different pasta shapes, you and the family need never get bored of using pasta in a wide variety of dishes.

PEARL BARLEY

Pearl barley is packed with fibre and nutrients. It’s probably best used to ‘bulk’ up soups and these can stretch a long way.  Alternatively, it’s a great and more nutritious substitute for potatoes with stews.

QUINOA

Quinoa is officially not a grain but a seed.  However, it works really well like a grain and provides some wonderful health benefits.  Most importantly, it’s really high in protein, making it a great vegetarian staple food.  It can be used as a side to anything but is also excellent used cold with salads.

One of the quickest and cost-effective ways with quinoa is as a one pot vegetable stew.  All it needs is some chopped and fried onions, curry paste and frozen mixed vegetables; you can have a great, budget meal for all the family within about 15-20 minutes.

STIR FRIES

You can actually have a stir fry every day for a week and still not be eating the same dish!  The point about stir fries is that literally anything can be used. However, when working to a tight budget, they’re also a great way of making foods go further.

For example, buy a larger chicken than normal for your Sunday roast and use the rest of the chicken in a stir fry with some chopped veggies (frozen can also be used, which are still equally as nutritious).

SPANISH OMELETTE

A great traditional Spanish dish, the Spanish omelette only actually contains five ingredients: onions, olive oil, potatoes, parsley and eggs.  That’s it!  Highly nutritious, filling and incredibly cost-effective! Serve with a deliciously fresh salad for a tasty budget summer meal.

ANYTHING IN JACKETS!

Think sweet potatoes, jacket potatoes, red or green peppers or courgettes!  All of these veggies can be ‘stuffed’.  Sweet potatoes are great with tuna, whilst jacket potatoes work well with ham and cheese. Peppers love being stuffed with quinoa, rice or mince and courgettes team up well with sausage meat and parsley. All satisfying and nutritious budget meals.

Hopefully this gives you some great ideas for balancing the budget whilst still eating nutritious meals; with a little careful planning, it can stretch much further than you think.

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‘B’ is for energy! The low down on B Vitamins.

Also known as the full Vitamin B-Complex, the wonderful family of eight B vitamins are primarily used to produce energy from the food we eat.  However, they are also used in a wide range of the body’s systems.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, provides the detail on why the B vitamins can support your energy levels all day long!

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THE BACKGROUND

The B vitamins are a family of water-soluble vitamins that often exist in the same foods, and also play very specific roles in overall health. They are all eliminated by the body in our urine, so a regular supply, either through our daily diet or supplementation, is required.

B vitamins are also easily destroyed through cooking, food processing and exposure to ultra-violet light.  Additionally, they are quickly depleted from the body particularly during stressful periods. So ensuring you are getting enough B vitamins every day is an essential part of maintaining a healthy body.

WHAT DO THEY DO?

B vitamins don’t provide energy themselves but enable the food we eat to be turned into energy.  They also help a variety of enzymes to do their jobs, as well as transporting oxygen and energy-containing nutrients around the body.

Here is a quick go-to guide of their main functions:

Thiamin (Vitamin B1)

Supports proper energy release from the brain and good functioning of the nervous system.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)

Crucial for energy release but also helps to keep our main antioxidant system in good working order.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Essential for well over 50 enzyme reactions in the body and particularly involved in blood sugar regulation, cholesterol metabolism and detoxification.

Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5)

Utilises fats and carbohydrates for energy production but is also known as the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin, helping to keep the adrenal or stress hormones in good working order.

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Supports the functioning of many enzyme systems and plays a key role in normal cell multiplication and hormone balance.

Biotin (Vitamin B7)

Key in the manufacture of fats and proteins, needed for healthy hair and skin.

Folic acid (Vitamin B9)

Essential for supporting DNA production and the formation of a healthy nervous system.  It is crucial for the developing baby to have sufficient in the womb which is why most women are recommended to take a folic acid supplement during pregnancy.

Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Needed for the production of red blood cells, supports good brain and immune function, and of course energy production.

RESEARCH SUPPORTING BRAIN BENEFITS

Whilst we know they are a very busy ‘family’ of vitamins, more recent research has established a link between daily supplementation of B vitamins and slowing the rate of brain shrinkage.

Scientists at Oxford University carried out a two-year randomised, double-blind controlled trial[1] to determine whether a vitamin pill containing folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 could reduce the rate of brain shrinkage.  The results were encouraging, showing an average of around 30% less brain shrinkage per year than those given a placebo. This suggests that these particular B vitamins could support ageing brain disorders such as dementia.

Suffice to say, whatever your age, ensuring you’re getting sufficient B vitamins on a daily basis is certainly going to keep the brain as sharp as possible.

WHICH FOODS CONTAIN B VITAMINS?

The good news is that the B Vitamins are widely available in many different foods including fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, legumes and whole grain foods, including cereals. So if you are eating a well-balanced, healthy diet you should have most of them covered. Brewer’s yeast also provides a rich source of B vitamins, hence the reason Marmite is hailed as providing energy!

One thing to note is that vitamin B12 is only found in animal produce, therefore if you are vegan you will certainly need to supplement to ensure you are not deficient.  Taking a daily vitamin B-complex supplement, alongside a well-balanced diet, can help plug the nutrient holes that can plague even the most careful of eaters. Look out for specific B-Complex supplements, or a multi-vitamin such as Alive! which contains all eight B vitamins; this is a great insurance policy to ensure you are getting enough of the B vitamins and to keep your energy levels at their optimum.

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[1] Smith AD et al.  Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomised controlled trial.  PLoS One 2010; 5:e12244. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012244