Article by Nella Foulds – MNU Certified Consultant Nutritionist and recipe creator for ‘The Lean Cook’
In an ideal world, we’d all be consuming foods that are going to give us everything we need to achieve optimal health, but we don’t.
As food choices have become much more wide ranging, do the foods we consume regularly cut the mustard when it comes to providing the vital vitamins, minerals and fatty acids it takes to keep us functioning?
As a society we are really diverse and what constitutes a healthy diet differs from person to person. With a few exceptions (food intolerances, allergies and clinical conditions such as celiac disease), we all need certain things in our diets to maintain good health and how we include them in our diet is up to us.
The point at which dietary choices affects our health is when we need to think about plugging the gap with a supplement and let’s be honest. It’s easy to take a regular supplement than to retrain our tastebuds to enjoy certain foods to get everything through diet alone.
So what are we talking about exactly?
A good place to start is with a Multi-vitamin and for ladies I’d recommend that you look for one which includes iron too. Pharmacy and health food store shelves are full of vitamins that range greatly in price, so read the labels so check how much of the RDA’s you’re getting. Pick something that suits your pocket so that you don’t wince when you take it daily. A word to the wise about antioxidants. They’ve been shown to reduce oxidative stress, but a 2011 study showed there was no benefit on muscle damage or performance.
Now let’s talk about Vitamin D. Very little of this vitamin is derived from diet and it’s synthesised in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Even if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere sunny, how much time do you spend in the sun without sun protection? Very little I’d be happy to bet, but would it surprise you to hear that over 50% of the population are deficient in Vitamin D?
Lets rundown why this vitamin is so important. It’s been shown to improve your immune system, improves bone health by supporting the absorption of calcium. Studies have shown that it can reduce depressive symptoms, and has the potential to improve strength and fat loss – never forget the first rule of fat loss is calorie deficit. If you feel you maybe Vitamin D deficient, your GP can carry out a simple blood test before you start supplementing, but most GP’s recommend supplementation. Click here for NHS guidance for Vitamin D.
Finally the last of my top 3 picks. Fish Oils. Before we get started, not all fish oil supplements are created equal, so let’s take a minute to geek-out. Fish oils are Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These are the guys to look out for when perusing the supplement isle. You’re going to see brands that contain Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) but these aren’t as effective as the other two guys. While ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, only a small amount can be synthesised by the body.
There are many dietary sources of fish oils. Most obviously oily fish including mackerel, salmon and sardines to name but a few, but also nuts and seeds. Hand on heart, does your diet include these foods regularly? Don’t miss out on the benefits of fish oils which include a reduction in inflammation and cardiovascular benefits. Studies have shown an improvement in depression too.
As I said at the start of this piece, in an ideal world we’d get all the nutrients we need from the food we eat. We could go so far as to blame modern farming practices and nutrient poor soil, but we like the foods we like to eat and we don’t always check all the vitamin and nutrient boxes all of the time.
You can turn the spotlight on your food choices by keeping a food diary for a week. Food diaries are a great way of highlighting where the gaps are and it doesn’t have to be complex or time consuming. Simply photograph everything you eat and drink for a week and post it somewhere private. Use a critical eye – this is hard because this is your own food and there’s nothing wrong with how you eat, right? Think about where the micro nutrients (vitamins, minerals and fish oils) are coming from, as well as the macro nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats).
As with all things it’s important to get the basics right first.
Article by Nella Foulds
Nella is a MNU Certified Consultant Nutritionist and has her own nutrition practice specialising in Sports, Performance, Weight loss and Clinical Condition. www.nellanutrition.com
She is also the founder and creator of ‘The Lean Cook’ with over 330 healthy, nutritionally balanced everyday recipes perfect for runners.