Diet: Doctor warns you could be at risk of deficiency – ‘essential’ foods to include

Essential Vitamins – Express Health

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According to a report from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), many people are not getting enough nutrients from their daily diets and a lack in these “essentials” could have potentially harmful health effects. HSIS dieticians Dr Carrie Ruxton and Dr Nisa Aslam, have provided their tips on how people can bring their nutrient status back to basics.

The dangers arise when people begin to skip meals due to their busy “grab ‘n’ go” lifestyles.

Restrictive diets as well as the rise in plant-based eating, fad diets, a decline in red meat consumption could also be to blame for deficiencies.

The main nutritional elements many people are at risk of having a lack of are:

1. Folate

Dr Ruxton revealed a staggering nine out of 10 women of child-bearing age have low folate levels.

This, she said, is “particularly worrying” as folate is essential during pregnancy for healthy foetal development.

Other benefits of folate are reduced tiredness and fatigue in adults.

“Increase your intake with broccoli, kale, chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice,” Dr Ruxton suggested.

2. Vitamin D

While it’s not always easy to get a top up of the “sunshine” vitamin here in the UK, Dr Ruxton advised just 15-20 minutes per day in the summer months can do a person the world of good as the vitamin is needed for the maintenance of bones and teeth as well as healthy muscle and immune function.

But in autumn and winter, Public Health England recommends taking a daily 10μg vitamin D supplement.

“You should also opt for a 10μg daily vitamin D supplement between October and early March,” Dr Aslam added.

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 percent over the last 20 years,” Dr Ruxton revealed.

“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.

She advised consuming more dairy foods, green leafy veg, seeds, nuts, fish with bones such as sardines, and fortified foods will boost a person’s calcium intake significantly.

4. Magnesium

Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body, such as supporting muscle and nerve function and energy production.

Low magnesium levels usually don’t cause symptoms, but in worst case scenarios chronically low levels have been known to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Dr Ruxton noted that while magnesium helps with energy levels and the reduction of tiredness, data shows that 38 percent of 11-18-year-olds, 13 percent of 19-64-year-olds and 16 percent of over 65s are “simply not getting enough”.

She recommends to boost intake with whole grains, seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, legumes and avocados.

5. Selenium

Selenium plays an important role in the health of the immune system, enhancing it, reducing inflammation and maintains hair and nail strength.

The antioxidant is also a key element in the production or sperm in males, but Dr Ruxton revealed a quarter of 11-18-year-olds, 25 percent of 19-64-year-olds and 36 percent of those aged 65 and over are taking in too little selenium.

Lean meats, eggs, soy products, seafood and Brazil nuts are packed with selenium.

6. Iron

A very common deficiency, with more than half of girls aged 11-18 and more than a quarter of women aged 19-64 being low in iron.

Dr Ruxton said: “We need iron for energy, immunity, and brain function so it’s vital we get enough.

“[You can] 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,” she continued.

“As iodine supports the developing foetus’s brain, it’s particularly important for women of child-bearing age.”

Dr Ruxton advised to up intake with fish and dairy products, or fortified plant milks.

“Just 87g of baked cod provides a recommended days’ worth of iodine,” she noted.

8. Omega 3

This crucial vitamin is essential for brain, vision and heart function and currently, the NHS recommends two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily (140g).

“Intakes remain well below this, with children aged four-18 eating the least oily fish; just a tenth of a portion a week,” explained Dr Ruxton.

Dr Aslam added: “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.”

People can up their Omega-3 intake by also eating more mackerel, salmon and sardines which offer healthy omega-3s, whilst non-fish options include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy beans.

Dr Aslam revealed that a “food first” approach is preferred when it comes to achieving the right balance of nutrients, only opting for supplements if all else fails.

“We can’t ignore the fact that this may not be practical in many circumstances,” she said.

“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 multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement appropriate to their age group.”

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