We all know the basics: vitamin C for immunity, probiotics for tummy troubles and Vitamin D for winter blues. However, there is much more to it than that.
We asked our experts to explore the science behind nutrition and give us their insider tips on how to be supplement savvy.
Iron deficient? Take it with Vitamin C!
According to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, low iron levels, also known as Iron Deficiency Anaemia, is the most common nutritional deficit in the UK! Iron is found in many foods, however is highest in liver, kidney, clams, poultry, almonds, apricots and pumpkin seeds, “that’s why vegetarians and vegans are a high-risk group.” explains Cassandra Barns, Nutritionist.
If you are feeling tired all the time, catching coughs and colds easily and looking pale you should seek a blood test from your GP to confirm your body levels of Iron before you supplement. But how to chose the right one? “If you are Iron deficient make sure you go for a supplement that also contains Vitamin C, such as Synergistic Iron by Quest Vitamins (£10.65, www.revital.co.uk) Iron is best taken with vitamin C as it increases its absorption. This is especially true in older people, as stomach-acid production decreases when we get older.” explains Barns.
Vitamins that like fat
Vitamins A, D and E are three essential nutrients for general health. “Vitamin A has various uses but is most important for the health of the eyes, skin, and the immune system. It works as an antioxidant so it can support your skin from damage and ageing. It is also required for your thyroid gland, which helps to control energy and metabolism in the body. Vitamin D is required for the normal function of the immune system, absorption of calcium, contributes to normal blood calcium levels and to the maintenance of normal bones, teeth and muscle function. Benefits of Vitamin E come from its antioxidant properties – they protect our cells from free radicals, so it’s often called a ‘beauty vitamin’,” explains Liana Bodiano, Nutritionist at www.nutricentre.com.
What do these three vitamins have in common? “These vital vitamins are all fat-soluble so are likely to be better absorbed when taken with foods that contains fats. That’s why people, who cut out fat completely from their diets very often suffer with not only low immunity but also dry skin, brittle nails and thinning hair” adds Liana.
Most people are aware that ‘friendly bacteria’ live in our gut and have a role in our digestion. Many of us also take probiotic supplements to generally support our digestive system or to address problems. “However, not everyone is aware what the bacteria that live in our gut actually do, and that they have many roles beyond simply soothing a bloated tummy. There are actually over 400 known species of these bacteria in the human gut, and their numbers total around 100 trillion per person – ten times more than the number of cells in our body! Their roles include helping to break down our foods and absorb nutrients, fighting off ‘bad’ bacteria, producing substances that nourish and protect the gut wall, and interacting with the immune system. Consequently, taking probiotic supplements, which aim to recolonize and support the populations of good bacteria in our gut, may benefit our health in many ways.” Explains Cassandra.
So what should we choose when it comes to probiotic supplements? It’s not only the total number of bacteria in a supplement that matters – it’s the number of different strains of bacteria that you should check too. “Different strains have slightly different functions, so if you want to get a complex support go for Adult 24 Billion by Pro-Ven (£13.95, Boots) with four strains of probiotic” suggests Barns.
Whole food supplements
It’s a no brainer – eating whole foods rather than processed, tinned or frozen is better for us. But did you know that there are two options when it comes to supplements? Michela Vagnini, Nutritionist at Nature’s Plus explains “There is no doubt that taking multivitamins is great for our health. However, most supplements on the market often contain synthetic nutrients combined in a tablet or capsule.” Fortunately, there are brands that offer Whole Food based supplements, where even small amounts of vitamins and minerals in whole food form are much more effective than bigger doses of synthetically processed nutrients. “If you are looking for a multivitamin, go for Nature’s Plus Source of Life Gold Adult Gummies (www.revital.co.uk, £28.50) that contains organic extracts” adds Michela.