It is 100 years since the discovery of vitamins by Polish scientist Casimir Funk. A century later, are we managing to meet our recommended intake of these vital nutrients? A study published last month in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that we are not (1).
The researchers reviewed the diets of adults in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, and compared them with national recommendations. Data was taken from the more recent national dietary intake surveys from each country as a basis for the analysis.
Of the countries studies, the Netherlands appeared healthiest, with fewer significant vitamin shortfalls compared with the rest of Europe and the US. Data from the UK and the USA showed similar patterns and levels of deficiencies, perhaps reflecting similar dietary habits and lifestyles.
Data from the UK included dietary information for both men and women between the ages of 19 and 49 years old. The results showed that more than 75% of men and women in the UK are deficient in Vitamins D and E, Furthermore, between 50-75% of UK adults are deficient in Vitamin A. Up to 50% of UK women were also found to fall short of the recommended dietary intake of certain B Vitamins such as folic acid and riboflavin.
The researchers concede that “a gap exists between vitamin intakes and requirements for a significant proportion of the population, even though diverse foods are available.” Increases in the consumption of fast food with low nutritional value probably accounts for this ‘gap’. A diet based on nutrient-dense, organic, whole foods is the best way to meet your nutritional requirements. A healthy diet should also be free from added sugar, refined grains and alcohol which ‘rob’ the body of nutrients.
Dr Manfred Eggersdorfer, DSM Senior Vice-President for Nutrition and Science Advocacy, and one of the study’s authors, concludes that action is needed to ensure that we are getting the vitamins we need for optimal health. “This research highlights that 100 years after the discovery [of vitamins], there are still major gaps that urgently need closing – to improve people’s long term health and to drive down healthcare costs.”
Failing to meet the recommended levels of vitamins can leave individuals vulnerable to a host of chronic, diet-related diseases. In the UK in particular, the recent study shows that many are failing to obtain adequate levels of Vitamins A, C and E in our diets. As these vitamins are major antioxidant nutrients, then, this could mean that a large number of the UK population are vulnerable to oxidative damage which is linked to the progression of a huge range of conditions from accelerated ageing and inflammation to cataracts, hypertension and diabetes.
Changing lifestyles mean that, even with the best of intentions, we do not always have the time or opportunity to ensure that we are getting all the nutrients we need from our diet. Processed convenience foods are all too readily available. Furthermore, unavoidable factors such as stress and pollution increase our nutrient needs. Small dietary changes can help to redress the balance. Regular consumption of oily fish, eggs and brightly coloured vegetables will help deliver a balanced of Vitamin A and its precursor beta-carotene, while regular snacks of fresh fruit and raw nuts and seeds will provide Vitamins C and E. For those in need of additional support, a good quality multi-vitamin or antioxidant supplement will help close the gap between vitamin intakes and recommendations.
Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC
1. Troesch et al (2012) Dietary surveys indicate vitamin intakes below recommendations are common in representative Western countries. Brit J Nutr 108:4, pp. 692-698.
2. Image courtesy of lynnc