As a nutritionist, there’s one nutrient that I used to feel sorry for.
Lumped with bones and teeth in an unenthusiastic parrot-back from teachers to students: “what is good for your bones and teeth?”….. they answer; “Calcium”. The teacher prods; “What else?”. Wait for it. The afterthought…. “Vitamin D”.
Even vitamin C, with it’s legacy of sailors and manky gums, captures the imagination with a pirate-like story of nutritional action. But vitamin D? What is there to know?
If people only knew. Boring it is not. Dull it can never be.
For how can any nutrient that can help to manage depression, working with body systems that help regulate our nerve and muscle function, and even help to manage our blood pressure, even be anything less than amazing.
But there’s a fundamental reason why I love vitamin D so much.
You see, I trained as a nutritionist at Nottingham University — yes, the realm of Robin Hood — and as a student there, I studied food production, environmental science, microbiology and — of course, nutrition. The message we were professionally bound to repeat?…. “You can get everything you need from a healthy, balanced diet”.
Blah, blah, blah. There it is… right there…the killer of nutritional reality in four simple words — “a healthy, balanced diet”. Do I sound really critical? Cynical? As if I dismiss the foundations of the subject that I dearly love?
I love the theory. But I’m real about the reality. And there I was, a passionate young scientist, reading amazing studies about the therapeutic application of high level supplementation and what it could achieve in terms of health outcomes, thinking ‘we’re missing something here’.
In any case, who in Britain at that time, was actually eating a healthy, balanced diet? Who even knew how to? Home ec students were making gluten balls when we’d made pasta bakes, and designing packaging, when we’d been preparing roast dinners. A generation was emerging who knew how to manipulate food, but had little interest in the basics of where it came from and what nutrients it contained. Times were changing.
And so it started — my love of the science of supplementation and to this day, 25 years later, I still uphold it. And today, the message is more relevant than ever.
How wonderful then, for me, to see how government has shifted full circle on it’s advice about vitamin D. We’re a million miles away from the message that you can get all that you need in your diet. In fact, most G.Ps and other health clinicians now advocate a supplement as standard once the sunshine dissapears. Why? Because they’ve admitted that diet just isn’t enough. People just aren’t eating enough in their diets to keep them healthy. They don’t eat enough vitamin D-containing foods, they’re eating nutrient-poor meals, they’re not planning and preparing, and they don’t have the nutritional knowledge to even know where to begin.
And this is why supplementation is a big win. Some might argue it’s a poor excuse for a solution. We should concentrate our efforts on teaching people about eating properly, eating fresh, planning, measuring and being mindful. I admire your vision. I support it. Endorse it. Uphold it. But for a population? We need something quick, easy and effective.
So a supplement it is. 10 microgrammes daily, or 400IU recommended. Safe tolerable limits are around ten times this (but do check with a practitioner before you try high potency supplementation).
When you look at the list of groups who are ‘at risk’ of vitamin D deficiency, it’s easy to see why vitamin D supplements have become a cold-season essential.
- Babies and young children
- Teenagers who don’t spend a lot of time outside
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding mothers
- People over 65
- People with dark skin tones
- People who cover up large areas of the skin outside
- People who work inside during the summer
- Those who are housebound
- Shop or office workers
- Night shift workers
- Those who live in areas with higher air pollution
So, go on…. consider it. There’s a reason why vitamin D broke through the ‘diet only’ message. It could be of benefit to you this Autumn and Winter.