Every single nutrient that we eat has a biochemical function within the body. Many nutrients work in synergy with one another meaning they cannot function properly without each other. Vitamins, minerals and macronutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats are crucial for health and wellbeing.
If we are not getting enough of a particular nutrient, a cascade of events occurs such as:
• Inability for other nutrients to do their job properly
• Poor hormone production and regulation
• Metabolic disorders and neurological ailments, to name just a few
Without enough nutrients, our bodies would gradually break down and wear out. Consuming too much of a particular nutrient, such as eating the same foods every day or self-supplementing with vitamins and minerals, can be just as destructive. Vitamins and minerals occur naturally in nature in perfect harmony and balance.
Eating processed foods or taking additional supplements in large doses can disrupt the balance and have adverse health effects. Calcium supplementation, for example, has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease thought to be due to the increased risk of abnormal calcification deposits in the arteries.
Reasons for low nutrients
A processed food diet – Food processing destroys valuable nutrients, particularly the B group vitamins. Whilst many people think processed food means junk food, many supposedly healthy foods are highly processed e.g. breakfast cereals, white flour, white rice, rice crackers, white rice gluten free products etc.
High sugar/alcohol intake – Sugar robs the body of nutrients particularly magnesium and B vitamins.
Coffee and Tea – Coffee and tea can affect nutrient absorption particularly iron so avoid drinking with meals.
Acidic diet – Eating lots of acid forming foods such as meat, coffee, sugar can deplete important nutrients particularly calcium.
Poor gut health – If our gut is not functioning well nutrient absorption is impaired. Common nutrient deficiencies linked with poor gut function include iron, B12, B vitamins, zinc.
Medications – Most medications will deplete nutrients. Proton pump inhibitors for example can lower Vitamin B 12 absorption whilst the contraceptive pill increase the need for vitamin B 6.
Food fads – Following restrictive diets that exclude major food groups such as grains, meat, dairy can put you at risk of nutritional deficiencies. Vegans are at particular risk of vitamin B12 and Taurine deficiencies and supplementation may be required.
Signs of nutritional deficiencies include –
Bleeding gums and dilated capillaries on the cheeks
Cracks at the corners of the mouth
Red, dry flaky skin
Bumps on the backs of the arms and legs
Thinning hair or hair that falls out easily
If the diet is well balanced and full of variety, there should be no need for artificial supplementation. Illness, stress, pregnancy, medications and even age can affect the body’s ability to absorb or process nutrients - this is when professional supplementation may be recommended but must always be professionally monitored.
For more information read my latest book The Forensic Nutritionist.