DIET DISASTERS: WHY OUR DIETS ARE LURCHING TOWARDS DEFICIENCY AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Looking to understand the dietary habits in the UK? The latest publication of the Government’s new National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS)[1] reveals that many of the food types we choose are far from nutrient rich, impacting on people’s vital vitamin and mineral daily needs. This e-newsfrom the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (www.hsis.org) provides a situation report on the most recent NDNS data and highlights areas of concern for our vitamin, mineral and fatty acid intakes.

Balance of bad health

Total calorie intake impacts on our body weight but where we obtain these calories influencers people’s nutrient status. Too many foods that are high in fat and calories and too low in vitamins, minerals and fibre, tipping the balance towards deficiency.

Dietitian, Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) says: “The latest NDNS shows that adults and teenagers are getting over a fifth of their daily calories from nutrient-poor foods and drinks. These include biscuits, cakes, confectionery, sugary soft drinks, crisps and chips. In adults, 5% of daily calories come from alcoholic beverages and, in the top percentile of drinkers, this rises to a whopping 26% of daily calories. Such foods and drinks, although pleasurable to consume, contribute very little to our nutrient needs and lead to an obesity risk”.

In contrast to this picture of junk food consumption, intakes of the healthiest foods have stagnated. The average adult is eating just over four portions of fruit and vegetables daily but only a third of adults and less than one in ten children achieve the recommended five portions a day. That picture has stayed fairly constant over the past 10 years.

Intakes of oily fish, which are the most valuable source of omega-3 fats in our diets, have also remained low.  A typical adult eats less than 60g of oily fish a week when the recommended minimum is 140g. For teenagers, the picture is even worse with only 21g of oily fish eaten a week. Not only this, two thirds of adults and children rarely eat oily fish and there are few other ways of getting enough omega-3 fats.

Dr Ruxton explains: “The long-chain omega-3s found in fish like salmon and mackerel, are essential for normal brain, heart and immune function. Studies show that people who don’t eat much fish have a higher chance of developing stroke, heart disease[2] and even depression[3]. In the UK, our intakes of these omega-3 fats are less than half the recommended 450mg a day and the main reason for this is a lack of oily fish in the diet. People who rarely eat oily fish should consider taking a daily omega-3, fish oil or cod liver oil supplement.

Get nutrient smart

Dr Carrie Ruxton says: “Sadly, our diets seem to be getting worse not better when it comes to vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. This is down to the fact that we eat too little oily fish, wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and lean meat. Aiming to eat more of these healthy options, having breakfast every day and cutting down on treat foods, alcohol and soft drinks can certainly help. But this takes time so a quick way to bridge the nutrient gap is to take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement and consider a daily omega-3, fish oil supplement too if you don’t tend to eat oily fish.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton & Dr Gill Jenkins, HSIS

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