Despite Government health recommendations, only 31% of adults achieve 5-a-day with most managing around 4 servings more of which are fruit than nutrient rich vegetables. The recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2018) also showed that a significant percentage of certain groups of the population had insufficient intakes of certain nutrients including vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, iodine, selenium and iron and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the lack of omega 3-rich oily fish in the average UK diet.
The state of our diet
There are certain groups of people for whom a daily multivitamin has always been highly recommended – vegetarians and vegans, those on a restricted diet or who are cutting back to lose weight, and those who omit food groups due to intolerances or allergy, for example. But is it time that we all follow this advice and ‘insure’ our health with a daily multivitamin? It would seem so…
According to experts, we are fast approaching a dietary nutritional deficiency ‘epidemic’ as modern society increasingly relies upon nutrient-poor processed foods to support busy lifestyles.
And it’s not just a lack of healthy foodstuffs that are the problem. Changes in farming techniques, decreased soil quality, long-term storage and a high demand for foods before they are ripe have resulted in a dramatic decline in the nutrient content of our foods.
A paper published in the journal Hort Science, suggested that the nutritional content of some fruits and vegetables may have dropped by as much as 40 per cent in the last 70 years. And, research published by nutritionist Dr David Thomas revealed that the levels of iron, copper and calcium in vegetables have decreased by up to 76 per cent since 1940.
Healthspan Head of Nutrition Rob Hobson says, “The nutritional quality of the food we eat may well be compromised by the current practices and demands put upon the food supply. This only emphasises the importance of eating more wholefoods in their natural state so we can glean as much good quality nutrition from our diet as possible. Yes, you may be able to get everything you need from a balanced diet but not everyone manages to achieve this and if this may be further hampered by the nutritional quality of the food we eat then it further supports the potential role of topping up with a basic multivitamin and mineral supplement.”
But what does this mean for our health?
As a result, conditions such as heart disease and stroke are on the up, and the number of those suffering from obesity and diabetes are soaring.
Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Medical Director says, ‘in an ideal world, everyone would obtain all the vitamins and minerals we need from our food, but in the real world significant numbers of people are missing out. While severe vitamin deficiency syndromes such as scurvy and beriberi are uncommon in the UK, suboptimal intakes of vitamins and minerals contribute to anaemia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and even some forms of dementia. A scientific review of over 150 clinical trials published in the Journal of the American Medical Association pointed out the health consequences of micronutrient deficiencies and even suggested that it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements for chronic disease prevention. I agree.1
The role of a multivitamin
Before you start thinking that taking a multivitamin gives you a free pass to eat as much junk food as you want, think again. Instead, multivitamins should be thought of as building blocks – there to provide a safety net of micronutrients while also following a healthy diet.
Multivitamins can also be targeted to specific age groups, and even specific health needs, such as men and women who are trying to conceive, and pregnant women.
Age-related multivitamins are a great step to personalising your health. For example: post-menopausal women and men above 50 will require more calcium and vitamin D than those in their early 30s. Similarly, younger women may benefit from higher levels of iron, B6 and folic acid than those ages 50 plus, and likely more than most men.
How to choose your multivitamin
A basic multivitamin should provide the most important vitamins (A, B group, C, D3, E, biotin, folic acid) plus key minerals such as calcium, copper, iodine, manganese and zinc, usually at around 100 per cent of the recommended daily amount (RDA).
If choosing a ‘complete’ formula – always make sure they contain the full range of micronutrients, including vitamin K, magnesium and selenium, plus additional trace elements such as boron and chromium. There is an increasing amount of formulas available that contain ingredients from vegetarian/vegan-friendly sources.
Watch point: While it’s a good idea for women who are planning a pregnancy, or who are pregnant to take a multivitamin, it is vital that they only take a supplement designed for pregnancy. Please speak to your GP if you are pregnant before you start taking a multivitamin.