Every day we make conscious decisions about what to eat and drink but it’s not always easy to follow a healthy diet. While some foods are better than others, not all of them contain the necessary vitamins and minerals. Considering the many roles that vitamins and minerals play in our bodies, we cannot ignore their importance as essential nutrients.
It’s often challenging to balance the number of nutrients as taking enough is good but too much could be harmful. To this day, eating a healthy diet is still the best way to get the vitamins and minerals we need. However, there are also many vitamin and mineral supplements that can help us stay healthy.
Why Is Having A Healthy Diet Important?
Whether you like it or not, the food you eat daily affects your health and can have a lasting impact. First off, good nutrition is important for a healthy lifestyle but you must combine it with some physical activity. A healthy diet can help you lose unwanted fat and maintain healthy body weight and promote your overall health. In fact, the right food choices can reduce your risk of chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.
Unhealthy eating habits often lead to obesity which opens the door for other chronic conditions. This ranges from type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure to osteoporosis in some cases. Hypertension and type 2 diabetes are often the result of unhealthy eating habits and increased weight gain. More often than not, adults follow dietary habits which formed during childhood and just highlights how important it is that children follow a healthy diet.
Check your BMI with this handy NHS calculator.
What Is A Healthy Diet?
This question has been asked for centuries and while there will always be different opinions, the simple answer is a balanced diet and exercise. One cannot expect to lose weight without doing any form of exercise or restricting your calorie intake. Now this could mean ten different things to ten different people but it all comes down to consumption with moderation.
In this section we talk about a healthy eating plan for the general population. However, anyone with medical conditions might have special dietary needs and should ask their doctor or a registered dietitian for advice.
Most people in the UK consume too many calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt. What they don’t do is eat enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre. It’s important to find an eating plan that works for you as different body types will process foods differently and at varying rates.
Related Article: ‘Children’s Oral Health part 2 – Sugar’
The Eatwell Guide To Healthy Living
Regardless of body type though, it’s important to choose a balanced variety from the 5 main food groups. This way you maximise your chances of getting a wider range of nutrients. According to the Eatwell Guide, people should try the following for a balanced and healthy diet*:
- eat at least 5 portions of various fruit and vegetables daily
- have meals higher in fibre and starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
- consume some dairy or dairy alternatives including soya drinks
- eat beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
- rather opt for unsaturated oils and spreads but still eat them in small amounts
- drink plenty of fluids and ideally 6 to 8 glasses of water per day
* This is only a general guide to a healthy diet as it may not work for everyone.
For more information on living and eating well, refer to this helpful article from the NHS, ‘Eating A Balanced Diet’.
Should I Take Vitamin And Mineral Supplement?
Our bodies need vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium and vitamin C to function properly for a variety of metabolic processes. While you should get vitamins and minerals from eating a variety of healthy and unprocessed foods, it is not always possible.
Many people use supplements but taking too much and for too long can actually be harmful. Vitamin and mineral supplements in moderation is not a health risk and could actually benefit those on a restricted diet or with specific medical conditions. However, only taking vitamin and mineral supplements instead of eating healthily is not recommended. Wherever possible, supplements should always be used in conjunction with a healthy diet.
For many people, daily supplements is purely a way to increase their intake of certain vitamins and minerals. There are so many good supplements on the market focusing on daily well-being, immunity support, beauty, bone and joint, energy or stress and sleep among others.
Who Can Benefit From Vitamin And Mineral Supplements?
Our bodies only require small amounts of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis and most diets generally provide enough. In some cases though, there are people with vitamin and mineral deficiencies and we’ve listed some of the below:
- pregnant and breastfeeding women
- women with excessive bleeding during menstruation
- people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol (above the recommended amount – one standard drink per day for non-pregnant women and two for men)
- cigarette smokers and illegal drug users
- people on crash diets or chronic low-calorie diets
- elderly people and especially those who are disabled or chronically ill
- some vegetarians or vegans
- people with allergies to particular foods
- people with malabsorption problems like pancreatitis, diarrhoea or coeliac disease
Folic Acid Supplements For Pregnant Women
Eating a healthy diet will help you get most of the required vitamins and minerals but when you are pregnant or planning to be, you should take a folic acid supplement. In fact, all women up to week 12 in their term should take folic acid to reduce the risk in baby development, for example, neural tube defects like spina bifida.
Folic acid supplements are available from your GP but also pharmacies and even supermarkets. If you do take folic acid supplements, be sure that it doesn’t contain vitamin A (or retinol). And remember, the daily recommended dosage is 400 micrograms.
If you are pregnant or have a child four years or younger you could get free vitamins through the Healthy Start scheme. Find out more about this means-tested scheme.
Vitamin D Supplements
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble that helps your body better absorb calcium and phosphorous. Taking the right amount of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous is essential for building and maintaining strong bones. Our bodies produce vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight and while preventing cancer is always important, not getting enough sun can result in a vitamin D deficiency.
Who Should Take Vitamin D Supplements?
Some groups within the population are at greater risk of a vitamin D deficiency and the Department of Health recommends that they take daily supplements. These groups are as follows:
- babies from birth to 1-year-old including breastfed babies, and formula-fed babies who have less than 500ml a day
- children between 1 and 4 years old
- people who get limited exposure to the sun, such as frail or housebound individuals, those in institutions like a care home or people who usually wear clothes covering most of their skin when outdoors
- people older than 5 years (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement containing 10 micrograms
For the most part, people 5 years and older should get enough vitamin D from sunlight during the summer months. However, winter is a different story which means you could choose to only take vitamin D during this time.
Supplements With Vitamins A, C and D
Children between 6 months and 5 years old should take a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D. This is merely a precautionary dosage as growing children don’t always get enough nutrients, especially if they don’t eat a varied, healthy diet or those who are fussy eaters. Your GP may also recommend certain supplements if you need them for a specific medical condition. If you suffer from anaemia, your GP will prescribe supplements to treat an iron deficiency.
Related Article: ‘Vitamins For Children’
Even though a healthy diet and exercise remain the primary focus for overall well-being, there are times when supplements are important. If someone is suffering from a serious illness or chronic condition, it’s best that they talk to their GP before taking anything. Community pharmacies can also play a part by educating the public about the importance of eating healthily, exercising regularly and taking daily supplements.
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