Health heroes!

Our guide to the must-have vitamins and minerals that everyone should consider taking

In today’s busy world it can often be difficult to find the time to eat healthily and make sure our bodies are getting all the nutrients they need for optimum wellbeing. “One of the great Western misconceptions is that malnutrition is simply about not getting enough to eat,” says Shani Shaker, a registered nutritional therapist (www.superradiance.co.uk). “Often it’s about not getting the right micronutrients. Whilst it’s preferable to get nutrients from our diets, sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to eat the way we know we should.” Here is our guide to some of the most important vitamins and minerals our bodies need in order to function well.

Vitamin D
“Vitamin D is an essential part of our diet,” explains Emily Whitehead, a nutritional therapist and brand ambassador for BetterYou (www.betteryou.com). “It may help to build and maintain a healthy immune system, improve muscle function, prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder and aid in the absorption of calcium and phosphorus needed for healthy teeth and bones. There has also been increasing evidence to suggest that vitamin D may help protect against cardiovascular disease and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. Only 10 per cent of vitamin D that is needed for a healthy body comes from our diet and the direct exposure of UVB rays from the sun on unprotected skin. These rays are only strong enough for the body to synthesise for six months of the year. Another alternative to boost vitamin D levels is via a sublingual D3 spray which absorbs directly into the bloodstream and can be up to twice as effective as traditional tablets or capsules.”

Vitamin C
“There are numerous benefits of consuming vitamin C,” says Frida Harju, in-house nutritionist at health and fitness app Lifesum (www.lifesum.com). “One of these is that it helps our bodies produce collagen. Collagen is an essential building component for everything from bone and skin tissue, to blood vessels, and if your body doesn’t make enough of it, you can suffer from nosebleeds, painful joints and scurvy. It is also a powerful antioxidant, attacking the free radicals in the body and even thought to prevent certain types of cancer.”

B complex
“This is a water-soluble vitamin that must be taken on a daily basis, as our bodies can’t store it,” explains Shani Shaker. “It includes B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin) and B7 (biotin). A deficiency in one usually means a deficiency in another. B vitamins nourish our brain and nervous system, work with our enzymes in energy production and protect the body from free radicals. Smoking, alcohol, stress and medications particularly long-term use of cholesterol drugs, acid-blocking drugs and oral contraceptives depletes it. Sources include: brewer’s yeast, pine nuts, brown rice, legumes and soybeans. B12 is found in animal-based products so vegans and vegetarians should supplement.”

Chromium
“Chromium is one of my favourite supplements,” says Rick Hay, anti-ageing food and fitness nutritionist (www.rickhay.co.uk). “I often recommend it as it helps to regulate blood sugar levels and therefore helps to keep cravings at bay. This makes it a good choice if weight management is your goal. It also has a role to play in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and protein, making it a good choice to assist with optimal digestive function. It is widely used in the sports industry to help with energy production and to enhance performance. Research is also indicating that chromium supplementation may help to reduce cholesterol levels.”

Iodine
“Iodine deficiency is the crisis that no one is talking about,” says Benjamin Brown, ND, a naturopath and technical director at Viridian Nutrition (www.timeforwellness.org). “The UK ranks seventh amongst the 10 most iodine-deficient countries in the world, and is one of only two high-income countries on the list. Recent studies have found that women across the UK are deficient in iodine, thus highlighting this as a dire public health issue. Why is it an issue? Because it impairs child brain development, and research has shown this is happening to children born in the UK today. So what are health authorities doing about it? Nothing, other than saying we “should get all the iodine we need from food.” But this is ludicrous because we are not, and a dietary supplement providing 150-200mcg of iodine a day will solve the issue instantly.”

Magnesium
“This is an essential component of bones and teeth,” says Shani Shaker. “It also helps to ensure the smooth function of nerves and muscles, including regulating the heartbeat. Deficiency leads to lethargy, fatigue, cramps, muscle tremors and heart-rhythm abnormalities. Men need 400mg; women need 310mg. Sources of magnesium include oat bran, almonds, brown rice, cooked spinach, bananas and molasses. There is no upper limit for dietary magnesium, but supplemental magnesium should not exceed 350mg/day. Supplementation should only be temporary. If you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet, extra supplementation should only last for a month or two, just long enough to resolve the deficiency.”

Omega-3 fatty acids
“Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and 6, which are found in fish oil, have several health benefits,” says Frida Harju. “In fact, omega-3s are so vital to us that the Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board set a minimum daily requirement for the first time. Health benefits include heart and brain health, boosting memory and concentration – the nerve fibres that send messages between brain cells need to be insulated by a fatty substance called myelin. A Northumbria University study found that essential fatty acids such as omega-3 help build myelin. Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 could also help to boost the mood as they increase the levels of dopamine in the body.”

Selenium
“Selenium intakes have been steadily declining in the UK over the last 40 years, in part because of increasingly low levels in soil,” explains Benjamin Brown. “The last survey of dietary selenium found that a large proportion of people, and most women, consume less than the recommended minimum daily intake. Selenium has a number of important biological roles, one of the most crucial being its role in “selenoproteins,” which are vital for thyroid health, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Not surprisingly, low selenium has been linked to a very wide range of health issues, especially thyroid illness and chronic disease development. In addition to a healthy, varied diet, a multivitamin providing 100 per cent of the minimum daily requirement (55mcg/day) is recommended, and 200mcg a day can be safely used to improve thyroid health.”

Zinc
“Zinc is a metal essential to our health as it is found in small amounts in almost every part of the body,” says Frida Harju. “It possesses numerous health benefits, such as boosting the immune system and even treating the common cold. Additionally, zinc is used for treating numerous conditions like acne, asthma, high blood pressure, muscle cramps and many others. Traces of zinc are even used in toothpaste in order to prevent plaque and gum disease.”

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