Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is essential, but it’s not always possible to get the nutrients you need, especially with modern diets. Even if we are conscientious about eating a healthy balanced diet, it’s likely that we are still falling short on many nutrients. Technically, a balanced diet should provide us with all we need for optimum health, but unfortunately, there are many modern day lifestyle and environmental issues that make it harder for us to consume all the nutrients we need from food alone than it was for our ancestors. Here’s a look at what specifically has changed and how this effects our need to take nutritional supplements.
Changing farming practices
Even the most healthy food eaters may have dietary deficiencies, as our food is just not as nutritious as it used to be. Modern farming practices and processing methods used to make our food last longer and taste better have changed, meaning that the food we eat today has measurably fewer nutrients than it did 50 years ago. In addition, pasteurisation and homogenisation of dairy products reduces the bioavailability of calcium and phosphorus in the milk, yoghurt and cheese we eat.
Modern life stresses
The stress of modern life can put a huge strain on our bodies and minds. Seemingly harmless events such as commuting to work or going to the gym can put unnatural amounts of stress on the body. Higher stress levels demand an increase in the production of stress hormones, and the body then uses more nutrients like Magnesium, B Vitamins and Vitamin C to keep up. Stressful lifestyles can also impair digestion, using up Calcium, Manganese and Zinc. Within minutes of stress, Zinc begins to be eliminated from the body, which is why many people have white spots on their fingernails, for example.
Pollution and unhealthy lifestyles
To complicate this further, our environment is also full of toxic chemicals such as air pollutants from car fumes and cigarette smoke to dust and pollens. Living in a heavily polluted city, being a smoker or drinking alcohol makes the nutritional demands on our bodies even heavier. Smoking and drinking alcohol depletes the amount of Vitamin C in the body. Those who smoke generally need double the amount of Vitamin C as non-smokers. For many of us, a cup of coffee each morning is part of our everyday routine but this cup can also cut your absorption of Iron to a third of the normal amount.
Taking pharmaceutical medicines such as Paracetamol increases the needs for antioxidants like Vitamin C, E and Selenium. Those who take antibiotics will have a greater need for B Vitamins and those who use birth control pills will need to increase their Vitamin B levels as well as Zinc.
Who will benefit most from vitamin supplementation?
Although we can all benefit greatly from consuming supplements, there are certain groups of people for whom vitamin and mineral supplements are most beneficial. Pregnant women, or those trying to conceive can benefit from a range of nutrients including Folic Acid and Iodine to reduce the risk of birth defects. People with limited exposure to sunlight and those with darker skin are advised to take a Vitamin D supplement. Frail or elderly people would also benefit from supplementation due to chewing and swallowing difficulties and absorption problems. Some vegetarians, vegans and those following low calorie diets can all be added to the list too, in addition to people who have been clinically diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency.
To summarise, the base of optimal health begins with a balanced diet, but on top of our diet, we all need to take nutritional supplements at some stage in our lives. Not only are diets today quite processed, but even organic and whole foods contain fewer nutrients compared to previous years, making our diets altogether deficient in essential nutrients.