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Nutrient - Multivitamin - Why take one?

By Cathy Robinson BSc Dip Nut Med

As a Nutritionist at Higher Nature, I often recommend that customers take a multivitamin/mineral. Sometimes this leads to me being asked why a multivitamin would be needed if one is eating a healthy, balanced diet. Surely our food should provide all the nutrients we need?

In an ideal world, the answer would be yes, but that doesn’t take into account both the nature of food production and today’s lifestyles. Much of the food we eat has travelled many miles to reach us, and then stayed on supermarket shelves for days, meaning nutrient levels have become depleted over time. Months may elapse between harvesting and eating. Food is often picked before it is ripe, not giving the plant time to develop its full nutrient potential.

I would be the last person to suggest that nutrients in pill form are a substitute for a healthy diet, but several long-term studies of food crops show startling declines in the nutritional values of vegetables and fruit over the past few decades, particularly with regards to magnesium, calcium, iron and copper. This is because the nutritional value of the plants we eat are only as good as the soil and water used to grow them. Intensive agriculture, which is geared towards high crop yield, does not replace lost nutrients and adversely affects the nutrient quality of plants. It’s a triumph of quantity over quality.

It’s not just plant foods that are affected – the animals that eat the crops have become depleted too. Research analysing 2002 nutrient levels found that turkey contained 79% less iron than in the 1940s and bacon, a whopping 87% less calcium.

Bear in mind too that we don’t lead the lives we used to – being stressed and busy, for example, actually increases our need for certain nutrients, particularly B vitamins and vitamin C. They literally get used up at a faster rate. If we have a sweet tooth and our blood sugar levels are not stable, we use up more chromium as a result.

I often liken a multivitamin/mineral supplement to a kind of health insurance – ensuring we aren’t running low in any particular nutrient. When choosing which to take, it’s not just the levels of nutrients that are important, but also the form of the nutrient. Certain forms of nutrients are much easier for the body to absorb than others. As an example, iron is often found in supplements such as ferrous sulphate. This is really difficult for the body to absorb, and the remainder sits in our digestive system, causing constipation and other digestive problems. Much better are organic forms of iron, such as ferrous gluconate. Even better still are food-form nutrients, where the vitamin or mineral is present in a food-based state, which the body can digest and absorb readily.


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