Surely all I need is a balanced diet?
There are 31 essential vitamins and minerals that we need to eat regularly to stay healthy. The UK Food Standards Agency says, ‘Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a varied and balanced diet.’ But there are problems with this:
- Many people have limited access to a balanced diet
- Most people make poor food choices
- Farming methods have depleted the soil and our food of essential micronutrients
- Food processing, such as grain milling, removes essential micronutrients.
The World Food Program states, ‘Hidden hunger affects more than two billion people. Even when a person consumes adequate calories and protein, if they lack one single micronutrient – or a combination of vitamins and minerals – their immune system is compromised, and infections take hold.’
More recently, the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition identified nutritional deficiencies in every group of the population, with the elderly, pregnant women and youngsters the worst affected.
So, if I don’t or can’t eat healthily, can I rely on popping pills instead?
Fortification or supplementation of a defective diet with micronutrients in the form of chemical isolates is now commonplace, but cannot solve the problem because:
- They are often toxic
- They are often poorly absorbed (low bioavailability)
- They rarely act in the body in the way intended (low bioefficacy).
The US National Institutes of Health states, ‘The present evidence is insufficient to recommend either for or against the use of multi-vitamins and minerals to prevent chronic disease.’ But the science of micro-nutrition is poorly understood by health professionals, many of whom believe that different forms of vitamins and minerals are the same. The truth is that isolates and food nutrients:
- Have different structures
- Use different metabolic pathways
- Function differently in the body.
Despite this, most researchers ignore both dose and form, and continue to study individual micronutrients, even though nutrition is a multi-dimensional issue.
Doctors remain adamant that we do not need supplements, and rationalists like Ben Goldacre attack anyone who recommends them. Their untested theory is that 5-a-Day will do the trick. Geoff, HETN’s onetime CEO, is not so certain. What he knows for sure is that:
- He does not grow all his own food
- He does not always manage 5-a-Day
- Much of the food he purchases is depleted
- He is eating less because he is doing less
- No one knows or cares how to measure his nutrient status.
But one thing is certain – in the micronutrient realm, we need all the bits, in the right ratios. Think of an orchestra – to create the music, we need all the instruments.
Each morning, Geoff swallow four pills. One is beta-glucan – a stimulator of the immune system. One is krill oil, which he may not need, because he eats a lot of fish. The third is a food state multivitamin and mineral supplement. The last is Jiaogulan. Do they help him? He believes so. He sleeps well, he feels well and he has to keep cutting his nails. But perhaps the best answer is that he is seventy and not taking any medications.