Essential Nutrients


Reach for the skyI often ponder on something  my teacher used to say: ‘There is not a person who walks this planet that does not need some sort of nutrient boost”. She was referring to our levels of essential nutrients – minerals, vitamins, fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The National Diet and Nutrition survey therefore makes an interesting read and its findings confirm her misgivings. For instance, summarising the consumption of fruit alone, the survey found that just 13% of boys and only 7% of girls aged 11 to 18 eat five-a-day fruit. It is not surprising then that in a conversation with your Nutritionist you will be made to think about not only your fruit consumption but also about the proportion of any one food relative to the whole diet. So the finding that twelve per cent of children aged 11 to 18 years had vitamin A intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake is not surprising as coloured vegetables provide beta carotenes which are converted to vitamin A internally.

Nutritional status can fluctuate from day to day from one life event to the next. We move through a world of internal and external stresses – we all know the mental stresses of relationships, life events like births, deaths, moving house. Or how about environmental stresses such as stuffy trains and airplanes, polluting farming practices or the presence of simple household and personal chemicals in our immediate environment? There are also the internal stresses that accompany all invisible processes that take place inside the body where like a huge purification plant it takes care of normalising hormones (such as rise during pregnancy) or moving nutrients to cells after meals, getting energy to active organs such as the heart, eliminating what is no longer needed (such as cholesterol) or recycling valuable molecules such as are needed to make DNA and simple proteins.

All these events are propped up by our store of nutrients that are released on tap, invisibly a little like our money by Direct Debit.

Unlike a bank account, there is no monthly statement. We don’t see our nutrient reserves. We just feel them. A discomfort here, a symptom there. This is why in today’s disorganised food scene where there is an abundance of food but no obvious information about how to select the best ingredients, keeping all internal nutrients at optimum levels could be hard, especially when it comes to the levels of micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals).

There are two major factors that sabotage our efforts to build up reasonable levels of micro nutrients. The nature or de-nature of foods is one factor. This means that if vegetables and fruits grow in poor soil, they prove less nutritious than we would hope for. The mineral selenium is one such nutrient – essential for many functions from thyroid to immune protection. Researchers have found that the selenium content of food is dependent upon the extent of its presence in the soil, whether directly (in plant foods) or indirectly (as in animal products whose selenium levels are derived from feed). Even if selenium levels are adequate in the soil, the sulphur contained in widely-used fertilisers and sulphuric compounds found in acid rain inhibit plant absorption of this mineral.

The second difficulty with getting enough micro nutrients is that relative to the amount of energy we need for our generally sedentary lifestyles (2000calories for a woman and 2500calories for a man ), when we eat a balanced diet, the volume of food does not provide the micro nutrient levels we would have eaten if consuming 4000calories. This higher level is more appropriate when leading active lives of farming, hunting or training. So even with a  vitamin- and mineral- rich diet, we are still playing catch-up on micro nutrients.

When the diet is further imbalanced by featuring a predominance of high energy foods such as bread, pasta, meats and oils and less of those rich in micro nutrients such as vegetables and fruit, then the Nutritionist would suspect some less than optimal and even less than minimum levels of key nutrients, especially if there are symptoms even if not diagnosed as disease.

Tests are useful indicators of how well (or badly) one is nourished. A client’s nutrients status can be established objectively by taking physical measures (in blood, urine or anthropometry). Anthropometry is about size, height, temperature, blood pressure etc.

In blood and urine we measure either

  • concentrations of nutrients themselves, for example when testing the iron levels,
  • products of their metabolism, for example when testing the inflammatory markers or
  • functional processes they regulate for example when testing stomach acid or insulin.

However it is not always necessary to run to the lab to see if a person is eating well. A food diary is a helpful tool for assessing nutritional and dietary choices and can be useful in preparing a personal dietary plan. When viewed in the context of the person’s health history and current symptoms it is always good to start with adjusting the diet to optimise nutrition. Special nutrients can then be added to help in special cases. A broad spectrum vitamin B may prove useful for energy and in stress situations and vitamin C and Omega3 oils may be all that is needed for a cold.

You can start your food diary today: just click on the link below. As I will say more than once: prevention is better than cure. So reach for the sky,  start balancing and let me know how you get on.



Food Diary

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