In the developed world, it’s difficult to think of nutrient insufficiencies as commonplace. Yet, the evidence clearly shows this is the case. Studies in healthy adults of all ages, particularly those with chronic disease, find that many people are not meeting recommended daily amounts of a variety of micronutrients. These include – but are not limited to – Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc.
To illustrate the point, one in five people in the UK are deficient in Vitamin D, increasing to a staggering 90% for those with Rheumatoid arthritis. Even among healthy people aged 20-59 years, 50% of women and 26% men consume less than the LRNI (Lower Reference Nutrient Intake) for Selenium. In other words, perilously low levels. Average intakes of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium and Zinc are also suboptimal, all below the RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake), according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, which analyses mean daily intakes of the UK population.
In chronic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, many of these nutrients are used as co-factors to support the perpetual underlying inflammatory response. It’s therefore not surprising they become depleted over time, if not adequately replenished. Some drug therapies used to alleviate arthritis symptoms, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can also increase the need for these nutrients, while reducing their absorption. Talk about a triple whammy!
Over time, these nutrient deficiencies can lead to a range of complications, such as worsening symptoms, impaired immune response, anaemia, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. And if that wasn’t enough, we now have the ever-looming threat of Covid-19 and winter fast approaching. Now, more than ever, it’s time to ensure our nutritional status is in tip-top condition.
Alongside others – namely Vitamin A, C, E, some B vitamins and copper – every nutrient mentioned above is recognised as essential for the optimal functioning of the immune system. Another good reason to ensure your diet is packed full of these mighty unsung heroes. Here’s our guide to how…
As you’ll know, the best source of Vitamin D is from the great outdoors, through direct sunlight exposure onto the skin. So, make the most of any good days of sunshine! Good dietary sources include oily fish, red meat, liver, and egg yolk. But it’s difficult to meet our Vit. D requirements from these foods alone during autumn/winter, as they only provide around 20% of our daily needs. That’s why the Department of Health recommends everyone considers taking a daily 10mcg Vitamin D supplement, to carry us through the darker months.
It’s a well-known fact that milk and dairy products are the richest sources of Calcium, providing around half of the UK’s dietary calcium. But if you’re looking for other options, green leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, kale, pak choi), nuts (almonds and hazelnuts) and fish with bones (e.g. sardines, whitebait) are also rich in Calcium. In fact, half a tin of sardines in oil (60g) will give you as much Calcium as a whole glass of semi-skimmed milk – a third of your daily needs. Lunch sorted! But remember, Vitamin D is critical to calcium absorption in the gut: without adequate Vitamin D, calcium uptake will be compromised.
Liver and red meat offer bags of “heam iron”, the most readily absorbed form of iron. But for all veggie lovers, you can boost your iron intake with pulses (e.g. kidney beans, edamame beans, chickpeas etc.), nuts, dried fruit and dark green leafy veg. “Non-heam iron” from plant-based foods is less readily absorbed, but Vitamin C can enhance this, if ingested in the same meal. So add a baked potato, broccoli, cantaloupe melon or kiwi fruit to your plant-based meal, and you’ll get your iron fill. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll meet 150% of your daily need for Vitamin C with a single kiwi fruit!
Magnesium can be found in a range of foods, such as unrefined wholegrain cereals, green leafy veg, nuts and seeds, some types of oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), avocados, tofu, and best of all, dark chocolate (>70% cocoa). Despite this, magnesium losses during the refinement or processing of foods – typical of today’s Western diets – has really taken its toll on our magnesium status. So, be sure to include a variety of unrefined, unprocessed, wholesome foods in your diet, and you’ll have no problem meeting your daily requirement of this magnificent mineral.
The best sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs. Other plant-based foods also contain some selenium, but their concentration is directly related to the selenium content of their soil, which is generally low in the UK and Europe. In fact, research predicts that over time, it could decline by a further 10% in the UK and other parts of the world, as a result of climate change. What about vegans? Fear not, the humble Brazil nut has got you covered. Just a single Brazil nut can meet your daily selenium needs!
Thankfully, zinc is fairly easy to source across most food groups. It’s found in meat, eggs, shellfish, dairy products, wholegrains, pulses, nuts (cashews, pine nuts) and seeds (hemp, pumpkin, sunflower seeds). Meat provides about a third of the UK’s dietary zinc because it’s so readily absorbed. Absorption from wholegrains and pulses is somewhat limited, because of the presence of phytates in these foods. Once again, a varied diet is key to meeting zinc requirements. For vegans, nuts (and seeds) have got you covered once more. A couple of handfuls will provide up to 40% of your daily needs.
It’s no secret the best way to get your nutritional status in peak condition for the coming winter is to follow a balanced and varied diet, with plenty of healthy, nutrient-rich food sources. Not only will they optimise your immune system, they’re so full of goodness and flavour, they’ll undoubtedly boost your mental health too!