All About Nutrients

Vitamins and minerals help us to grow into fit and healthy human beings, give us energy and aid our fight against disease and infection. Thanks to these micronutrients, most of us can get up in the morning ready to tackle another busy day at work or whatever the day will throw at us. But because most nutrients cannot be manufactured by the body, they have to be obtained from the food that we eat. And sticking to a varied, well-balanced diet should supply more than enough for most of us.

The World Health Organisation recommends that everyone should eat at least five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Unfortunately, the truth is that most of us consume nowhere near this amount (on average, less than three). And because fresh foods start to lose their goodness the moment they are harvested, even those who do won't necessarily be getting their fair share.

These factors and others - such as stress, alcohol, age, hormonal balance - may mean that many people are not getting anywhere near sufficient levels. Also the damage caused by free radicals (see Antioxidants below) can cause havoc to the body and long-term health, especially as we reach middle age. For example, a recent study reported in The Lancet found that increasing daily intake of vitamin C from fruit and vegetables by just 50g (two pieces of broccoli or fruit) reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, heart attack and cancer.

To try and combat such damage and to ensure maximum intake of vital nutrients, a third of the population are now turning to supplements. Women especially are thought to need extra nutrition at various stages in their lives, while slimmers and vegetarians may not be getting enough nutrients from their diet, so will need a little extra help. As we grow older vitamins and minerals play an even more important role in our longevity and health. So it is worth identifying which is which, and what they actually do. A SlimSeekers Personal Advice Plan will include a list of specific foods which supply particular vitamins or minerals, and how much the recommended daily allowance is.

Vital Vitamins
There are two types of vitamins - fat soluble and water soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D & E) can dissolve in fat and can therefore be stored in the body, mainly in the liver. Water-soluble vitamins (B complex, vitamin C) dissolve in water and are extracted through our urine. With the exception of vitamin B12, these cannot be stored in the body so need to be continually replenished.

Upon entering the body, a vitamin travels through the bloodstream to the cells, where it joins up with enzymes to do its job. The cells can only use so much of the vitamin and when a certain 'ceiling' is reached, the vitamin might be excreted if it is water soluble or stored if it is fat soluble. So it is important to remember that there are no benefits to be gained by having too many vitamins in your body. Taking more supplements than a healthy diet gives you, or what your body actually needs, can be a complete waste of money.

Minerals Matter
Minerals comprise approximately six per cent of our body weight and form the greater proportion of our bones and teeth. A diet containing a variety of foods (meat, fish, dairy products, nuts, cereals, vegetables and fruit) will supply all the minerals we need, which are vital for our well-being. There are three groups - macrominerals, microminerals and trace elements. Macrominerals are required in larger amounts and include calcium, sodium and magnesium. Microminerals are needed in less amounts and include iron, manganese and zinc. Trace elements, required in tiny amounts, include iodine.

Antioxidants help prevent oxygen reacting with molecules in our body in ways that could cause damage, possibly encouraging some cancers and heart disease. The damage is caused by certain varieties of oxygen molecules known as free radicals which attempt to 'steal' particles (electrons) from the molecules in our cells. Excess free radicals are caused by environmental or outside factors such as pollution and smoking. Antioxidant nutrients and enzymes can sacrifice their own electrons to the free radicals, thus protecting the body's precious cells. The most important antioxidant nutrients are vitamins A (in the form of beta-carotene), C and E, as well as the mineral selenium. So the message is to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your every day diet.

Taking Supplements
In theory you have no need to take any supplements if you eat a balanced diet and live in a friendly environment. But the chances of that are probably somewhere between nil and zero. We have no control over how our food is grown, packed, transported, and prepared for sale. Even with organic foods we have to trust the soil that it is grown in or what the label tells us. Then when we get the food in our kitchen we remove many of the nutrients when preparing, cooking or freezing. This is not to mention a lifestyle that may not be the most healthy - drinking, smoking and little exercise (hopefully this will change after receiving your SlimSeekers Personal Advice Plan!)

So it does make some sense to top up on vitamins and minerals especially in the areas that we feel there may be a gap - vegetarians for example, fussy eaters, dieters, the elderly, etc. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement taken once a day is probably good practice for most people. Some nutritionists argue that optimal quantities, which would reduce risks of disease, are probably higher than the Recommended Daily Allowance. So, if in doubt about your diet, a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement could be a good idea.