I have a healthy diet: do I really need vitamins?
Our in-house nutritionist unpacks whether we still need to supplement if we follow a healthy diet.
We are often asked whether supplements are necessary, especially when someone is already following a varied and balanced diet…
But even for the most health-conscious eaters, there are factors that are beyond our immediate control that can have an effect on our diet and our ability to absorb certain nutrients from food. Poor eating habits are the most obvious reason for inadequate micronutrient levels in the body, but even those aboard the ‘clean eating’ wagon may still benefit from incorporating nutritional supplements into their diet.
The Modern Diet and Lifestyle
A tomato or broccoli floret unfortunately doesn’t contain the same amount of micronutrients that it used to. With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, soil degradation is becoming an increasing threat to the nutrient density of our diets. As such, eating a varied diet is not always sufficient in providing our body with the essential nutrients that it needs to function optimally.
Many people nowadays are living suboptimally, with sedentary lifestyles, constant grazing habits, poor sleep regimes and processed foods making up the majority of their diets. The typical Western diet is high in calories but nutrient poor. The diet is typically high in refined grains, sodium, saturated fats and falls short of important nutrients such as fibre, potassium, magnesium, vitamin D and calcium, leading to what we call the “nutrient gap.”1 (Read more on this below.) According to a European study, participants were commonly lacking in the following nutrients: vitamin C, vitamin D, folic acid, calcium, selenium, and iodine. 2 The lifespan of humans is increasing and, as we age, our micronutrient requirements increase 3, resulting in a need for supplementation.
Medications and stimulants
Antibiotics are one example where medication affects the micronutrient levels in our bodies. By reducing the healthy bacteria in our gut, this, in turn, affects the production of B vitamins in our body 4. Further, the contraceptive pill has been shown to decrease levels of zinc 5, magnesium 6 and folic acid 7 in the body, and users of statins have experienced lower levels of vitamin D and CoQ10 8.
Studies have shown that smoking and alcohol consumption can also have a big effect on the concentration of vitamins and minerals in the body. Vitamins C, E, and carotenoids in particular, are affected by smoking 9. Alcohol consumption can affect our nutrient levels too, reducing levels of folic acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, zinc, and selenium 10.
There are times throughout our lives that our body requires more of certain nutrients that our typical diet can supply, such as folate and B12 during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and vitamin D and calcium during menopause, or for those aged above 50 years.
For those with a very active lifestyle, you may be at greater risk of nutrient deficiencies. Magnesium is a common one amongst endurance athletes; for optimal muscle function, the balance of calcium, potassium and sodium must be maintained. Another typical deficiency amongst female runners is iron.
With the rise of more plant-based eating (which is undoubtedly better for the health of our planet), it is important to consider that some essential nutrients can only be obtained from animal sources, such as vitamin B12 and, to a certain extent, iron. If you are vegan or vegetarian we recommend monitoring your nutrient intake closely and doing a blood test regularly to check your levels.
So do I really need them?
A healthy, balanced diet should be everyone’s goal, but it seems there are certain factors, such as the points mentioned above, that play a role in determining our micronutrient requirements. At Vitl, we believe it is increasingly necessary for us to supplement our diets in order to achieve optimal health, whatever lifestyle or diet you choose to follow. However, it is important to note that there is no magic pill that you can take to counteract an unhealthy diet or lack of exercise. Whilst we recommend taking supplements to achieve optimal health and wellbeing, a balanced diet and regular movement cannot be overlooked as the key to a happy, healthy mind and body.
Start your personalised vitamin journey and take your consultation today!