How to get an optimum nutrient intake

Can diet alone provide optimum levels of all the nutrients you need to be healthy?

Every survey of eating habits conducted in Britain since the 1980s shows that even those who said they ate a balanced diet fail to eat the basic Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs).

What is more, the RDAs of vitamins and minerals are set by governments to prevent deficiency diseases such as scurvy or rickets, rather than to ensure optimal health. And there is a big difference between a lack of illness and the presence of wellness. Take the example of vitamin D. While 5mcg a day confers protection from rickets, 30mcg a day, more than you can eat, confers optimal protection from a number of common cancers.

Why, you may wonder, does a good diet not contain all the vitamins and mineral we need for health?

Firstly, it is a big assumption to assume that it ever did. The science of nutrition has determined optimal levels of many nutrients that are way beyond those that can be consumed in diet. For example, as we age absorption of B12 becomes increasingly difficult. As a consequence many people over age 70 are B12 deficient despite an apparently adequate diet (The RDA is 1 mcg). Studies shows that these people need 500mcg to correct deficiency – that’s 500 times the RDA!

The Optimum Daily Allowances are estimates based on what the science is showing us to be the most beneficial intakes of nutrients. If these levels can be achieved from diet alone then there’s no need to supplement. For most nutrients, and individuals, this is not the case.

In addition, studies show us that nutrient levels in food are falling – there are less vitamins and particularly minerals in fresh produce today, for example, than in the eighties. This is partly due to intensive farming on nutrient-depleted soils and also storing ‘fresh’ food for longer (for instance, oranges may take four-five months from picking to appearing on your supermarket shelf).

Refining food (ie turning brown into white) also strips away valuable nutrients. In wheat, for example, 25 nutrients are removed in the refining process that turns it into white flour, yet only five (iron, B1, B2, B3 and folic acid) are replaced. On average, 87% of the essential minerals zinc, chromium and manganese are also lost. Of course you can, and should, eat unrefined foods.

And we just don’t eat what our ancestors ate. A gorilla, for example, often eats more than 1,000mg of vitamin C a day, the equivalent of 22 supermarket oranges – we often eat less than a tenth of this.

The result of a sub-optimum intake of nutrients is a sub-optimum state of health. Most people put up with feeling ‘all right’ – accepting the odd cold, headache or mouth ulcer and having low energy, poor digestion, depression etc as normal. Yet there are many scientific studies published in respected medical journals which prove that increasing intake of vitamins and minerals above RDA levels can boost immunity, enhance IQ, reduce birth defects, improve childhood development, reduce colds, stop PMS, improve bone density, balance moods, reduce aggression, increase energy, reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic 21st century diseases, and basically promote a long and healthy life.

If you’d like to read more about the kind of levels of nutrients that help prevent and reverse chronic diseases read Food is Better Medicine than Drugs, which contains over 1,000 references to published studies.

Click here to see what nutrient intake you achieve by diet alone – and how this compares to the optimum daily intake (ODA).

Click here to see how to put together a supplement programme to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.