We know that eating a balanced diet, full of nutrient-rich foods, is a cornerstone of good health. We also tend to understand that, despite our best efforts, we sometimes need to top up our diets with supplements to ensure we’re getting everything we need.
What we often don’t know is exactly what nutrients we should be looking to include in our diets, often opting for multivitamins to cover all bases.
Having a good understanding of the core nutrients we need in order to function well is important, so that we can make the right diet and lifestyle choices.
Here are 9 nutrients you need to know:
A vital component of wellbeing, vitamin D is essential for bone health.
Despite its importance, it’s one of the more common vitamins we’re deficient in. It’s produced in the skin through exposure to sunlight, meaning that, depending on geographical location, the amount of vitamin D you are able to produce varies greatly. It is also found in several foods which provide an alternative source.
It’s estimated that between 50-70% of people living in the northern Europe (where daylight length reduces your chances of receiving adequate sunlight in the winter) are deficient in this vitamin by March each year.
A prolonged lack of vitamin D can cause osteomalacia, a disease which causes severe skeletal deformities, while lower-level deficiency can lead to symptoms including chronic pain, weak bones, frequent infections, depression, and fatigue.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the normal function of many body processes and deficiency can lead to anaemia and neurological disorders.
Pernicious anaemia develops if the gut isn’t able to transfer B-12 to the blood, and even if you eat a diet rich in the vitamin, deficiency will occur if this disease is present. Recent evidence suggests that mild deficiency is probably more common than previously thought and may explain the presence of fatigue and a host of other limiting symptoms.
Vitamin B-12 is most abundant in meat products, so vegetarians and vegans are more vulnerable to deficiency.
Vitamin B-9 (folate)
Folate (vitamin B-9) is important in the formation of red blood cells and for healthy cell growth and function. It’s a crucial nutrient during early pregnancy to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine.
Folate is found in dark green leafy vegetables, beans, peas and nuts. Fruits rich in folate include oranges, lemons, bananas, melons, and strawberries. The synthetic form of folate is folic acid. It's an essential component of prenatal vitamins and is in many fortified foods such as cereals and pastas.
A diet lacking foods rich in folate or folic acid can lead to a folate deficiency. Folate deficiency can also occur in people who have conditions, such as coeliac disease, that prevent the small intestine from absorbing nutrients from foods.
Ferritin is a protein found in the blood which carries iron. The levels present in your body reveal important information about how much iron is stored in the body. This can indicate whether you have an iron deficiency, and if so, how chronic this may be. Likewise, it can also reveal excess levels of iron and also indicate the presence of inflammation in the body.
Selenium is a trace mineral found naturally in foods or as a supplement. Selenium is an essential component of various enzymes and proteins that help to make DNA and protect against cell damage and infections. These proteins are also involved in reproduction and the metabolism of thyroid hormones.
It can be found in foods such as Brazil nuts, beef, turkey and chicken, fortified cereals, beans, lentils and wholewheat bread
Calcium, found in dairy products and some leafy green vegetables such as spinach, is needed to maintain healthy bones and teeth.
Too much calcium can cause symptoms such as frequent urination, vomiting and nausea, abdominal pain, and constipation. Low calcium levels may cause muscle cramping and spasms and irregular heartbeat
Sodium is an essential electrolyte involved in several bodily functions and is regulated by the kidneys. High or low levels can be related to a number of diseases, and the level can be influenced either way by prescribed medication.
Zinc is an essential component in cellular processes such as DNA replication. Over 25% of the world's population has a low or marginal zinc status. Symptoms of this can include the loss of appetite or increased susceptibility to infection.
From regulating blood sugar levels to boosting athletic performance, magnesium is crucial for your brain and body. While it’s found in a variety of foods ranging from leafy greens to nuts, seeds, and beans, many people don’t get enough in their diet.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency can include nausea, fatigue, shaking, pins and needles, drowsiness, and abnormal heart rhythms. Long-term deficiency can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraine
A simple check for your core nutrients
With GP waiting times increasing in many practices, and appointments for non-urgent care more difficult to access, private blood testing is becoming a common alternative for many people looking to take control of their health.
Our Nutrition 9 test is a quick and convenient way to confirm your levels of all the key nutrients listed in this article. Armed with the knowledge this test provides about your nutrition levels and any deficiencies, you can have a more complete picture of your health, spotting any gaps you may have so that you can make the right choices to improve your health and wellbeing.