THE EIGHT KEY NUTRIENTS THAT STATISTICS SHOW YOU COULD BE LACKING IN (AND HOW TO GET MORE OF THEM FOR BETTER HEALTH!)
Are you at risk? Swerve the danger of deficiency and boost your nutritional status
It’s time to get back to basics with our nutrition, says a new report from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), which shows a shocking decline in intakes of at least eight essential nutrients
NUTRITIONAL BACK TO BASICS: THE NUTRIENTS YOU NEED, SERVED ON A PLATE looks at levels of vitamin D, folate, calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron, iodine and omega-3, and finds that many of us are simply not getting enough from our daily diet, with potentially harmful health effects.
This worrying data comes at a time when maintaining the nation’s health has never been more important, thanks to Covid-19. Although the UK’s nutrient status has been on the decline for the past 20 years, HSIS dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton says that skipping meals, busy ‘grab ‘n’ go’ lifestyles, as well as the rise in plant-based eating, fad diets and a decline in red meat consumption, could be to blame. So, what are we lacking in and how do we get more?
#1. Folate: A staggering nine out of 10 women of child-bearing age have low folate levels – particularly worrying as folate is essential during pregnancy for healthy foetal development. Folate also helps reduce tiredness and fatigue in adults. Increase your intake with broccoli, kale, chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice.
#2. Vitamin D: The ‘sunshine’ vitamin is needed for the maintenance of bones and teeth as well as healthy muscle and immune function. It’s best topped up via just 15-20 minutes of sunshine on the skin during the summer months. However, during the colder months in the UK, we’re unable to get enough UVB to meet our vitamin D needs, because we tend to cover more of our skin with clothes and the sun stays lower in the sky. Therefore, Public Health England recommends taking a daily 10μg vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter. Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs, fortified foods and dairy products.
#3. Calcium: There has been an overall decline in calcium intakes of 20% over the last 20 years; more than a fifth of girls aged 11-18 years and more than one in 10 women aged 19 and over aren’t even achieving the minimum recommendation of 400mg a day – and most people need far more than this. Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth and it even plays a role in heart health. Get more via dairy foods, green leafy veg, seeds, nuts, fish with bones such as sardines, and fortified foods.
#4. Magnesium: Despite magnesium helping with energy levels and the reduction of tiredness, as well as helping maintain a healthy nervous system and muscle function, data show that 38% of 11-18-year-olds, 13% of 19-64-year-olds and 16% of over 65s are simply not getting enough. Boost your intake with wholegrains, seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, legumes and avocados.
#5. Selenium: Sperm production in males requires selenium, as does the maintenance of hair and nails. A quarter of 11-18-year-olds, 25% of 19-64-year-olds and 36% of those aged 65 and over are taking in too little selenium. Time for more? Enjoy lean meats, eggs, soy products, seafood and Brazil nuts.
#6. Iron: More than half of girls aged 11-18 and more than a quarter of women aged 19-64 are low in iron, which could in time lead to iron deficiency anaemia. We need iron for energy, immunity, and brain function so it’s vital we get enough. Add red meat, liver, tofu, spinach, beans, dried apricots and fortified breakfast cereals to your plate.
#7. Iodine: The intake of this important mineral has declined over the past nine years, especially in women. As iodine supports the developing foetus’s brain, it’s particularly important for women of child-bearing age. Up your intake with fish and dairy products, or fortified plant milks. Just 87g of baked cod provides a recommended days’ worth of iodine.
#8. Omega 3: To ensure adequate omega-3 – essential for brain, vision and heart function – the NHS recommends two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily (140g). However, intakes remain well below this, with children aged four-18 eating the least oily fish; just a tenth of a portion a week! Mackerel, salmon and sardines offer healthy omega-3s, whilst non-fish options include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy beans.
Should you opt for a supplement?
GP Dr Nisa Aslam and a co-author of the HSIS report – NUTRITIONAL BACK TO BASICS: THE NUTRIENTS YOU NEED, SERVED ON A PLATE – reveals that a ‘food first’ approach is preferred when it comes to achieving the right balance of nutrients. However she notes: “We can’t ignore the fact that this may not be practical in many circumstances. Clearly the latest research data, together with government nutrition tracking programmes, is showing that most of us, whatever our age, are falling woefully short of all the vital nutrients to fuel our bodies daily, including myself.
“As a result, I would recommend that people in the UK need to bridge all these essential nutrient gaps with a multivitamin and multimineral supplement appropriate to their age group. If you’re not eating one 140g portion of oily fish a week, it’s important to supplement with an omega-3 supplement containing the building blocks for our brain and heart health. You should also opt for a 10μg daily vitamin D supplement between October and early March.”
So how do we go about ensuring we get the nutritional basics right to maintain good health and prevent disease? The following tips should set you off on the right path.
Dr Carrie Ruxton and Dr Nisa Aslam: 10 HSIS tips to bring your nutrient status back to basics
- Bridge dietary gaps: Bridge micronutrient gaps in your diet with a multivitamin and multimineral supplement appropriate to your age group (applies to adults and children).
- Love your omega-3s: If you aren’t managing to eat at least one portion (140g) of oily fish a week, ensure your body’s omega-3 needs are being met with an omega-3 supplement containing the fatty acids EPA and DHA appropriate to your age group (applies to adults and children). There are fish-based omega-3 supplements and algae ones for vegetarians and vegans.
- Up your Vitamin D : Take a 10μg daily vitamin D supplement between October and early March to top up the limited amounts available from natural food sources (applies to adults and children).
- Mums-to-be: All women of reproductive age who may become pregnant should take a 400μg daily folic acid supplement to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their babies.
- Babies, infants and children: It’s a good idea to give children aged 6 months to 5 years a vitamin A, C and D supplement, as recommended by the Chief Medical Officer.
- Eatwell: Follow the recommendations from the Eatwell Guide to help you achieve the recommended intakes of protein, fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals from a range of healthy options.
- Veg & Fruit – life’s vitality: Aim to include at least 400g (5 x 80g portions) of vegetables and fruit in your daily diet. This could be through soups, stews or salads, or chucking a handful of frozen peas or sweetcorn into recipes. A daily glass of orange juice, or a handful of berries or raisins sprinkled on your porridge is an easy hack. Or try spinach and mushrooms with scrambled eggs, or a piece of fruit alongside your usual toast.
- Plate colour: Try adding a new vegetable or fruit to your basket each week – remember frozen, fresh, dried and tinned all count. Eating a wide range of colours of fruit and veg is a good way to ensure you’re maximising essential vitamins, minerals and health-giving phytonutrients, such as polyphenols.
- Cook from scratch: Aim to cook as much of your own food as possible, as ultra-processed foods tend to have lower levels of micronutrients and higher levels of fat, salt and sugar. Batch cooking nutritious dinners and popping them in the freezer is a great way to do this and save time in the evenings.
- Label check: Check the label of your regular supplements to make sure you’re not doubling up on any individual nutrients, and you’re following the recommended doses. If you’re on regular medication, it’s wise to let your doctor know that you want to take a dietary supplement.
HSIS (the Health and Food Supplements Information Service) is a communication service providing accurate and balanced information on vitamins, minerals and other food supplements to the media and to health professionals working in the field of diet and nutrition. Find out more at www.hsis.org.
Did you enjoy this article? Sign up now to keep informed of new stories from SpookyMrsGreen.
 PHE (2016) Government Dietary Recommendations. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf
 Reference Nutrient Intake for females aged 19-64 years
 Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and Committee on Toxicology (2004) Advice on fish consumption. Benefits and risks.
 Derbyshire E (2019) UK Dietary Changes Over the Last Two Decades: A Focus on Vitamin & Mineral Intakes. J Vitam Miner 2: 104.
 Nutritional Back To Basics: The Nutrients You Need, Served On A Plate; Edition 1; HSIS – Winter 2021
 The Eatwell Guide. (2016). Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide
*Article contains affiliate links