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Back to Basics

Updated on January 18, 2018
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There are so many 'buzz words' when it comes to our health that you'll be forgiven if you are confused. If we cut through the jargon, there is one word which stands out as the most important of them all - nutrition. I'll take you back to basics and ensures that you are getting all the essentials in your diet.

As Maryon Stewart, founder of the Women's Nutritional Advisory Service (WNAS) says: "Nutrition is the very foundation of life. Even the fetus in the womb has to receive nutrition from its mother in order to survive and grow. It is the basis of health, without it we die."

The main nutrients that we must have are vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carbohydrates and essential fatty acids. Essential to growth, they also protect us from disease, help us cope with life's trials and tribulations and are vital for everything from brain function to healthy skin.

"Trouble is," says Maryon Stewart, "we don't all start from an even playing field. It can't be assumed that every baby is born with the right amount of nutrients because the health of the mother. Her diet, lifestyle, and various other factors, will affect the child. No two people start exactly the same, nor, within the passage of life, do we stay as we started."

For life's toll hits our nutritional levels too. Stress can badly affect us, as can shock, bereavement and illness. "It's possible to live on the nutritional edge for quite a while, then suddenly something happens in life and it can push you into deficiency," says Maryon Stewart.

Here are some examples of the functions of different nutrients, the foods you can find them in and symptoms of deficiencies:

Vitamin A

  • Function Maintains skin, eyes, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts, bones, teeth, hair and gums.
  • Good sources All yellow and green leafy vegetables, fish liver oils and cheese.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Acne, dandruff, dry eyes and mouth ulcers.

Vitamin B complex

  • Function Vital to our nerves and central nervous system. A great help with stress.
  • Good sources Wholegrain bread and cereals, brown rice, vegetables, lean meats, eggs, cheese and yoghurt.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Depression, irritability, insomnia, fatigue and anaemia.

Vitamin C

  • Function Holds body cells together, heals wounds, good for the immune system.
  • Good sources Citrus fruits, green leafy veg, apples, tomatoes and potatoes.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Bleeding gums, easy bruising, frequent infections like colds and thrush.

Vitamin D

  • Function Needed by bones and teeth.
  • Good sources Sunshine, milk, eggs, liver, fish liver oils and oily fish like salmon, kippers, tuna and sardines.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Rickets and bowed legs in children, brittle bones, deafness, weak muscles and osteoporosis.

Vitamin E

  • Function Good for heart and arteries.
  • Good sources Wholegrain bread and cereals, sunflower and soya oils, peanuts and almonds.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Cataracts, age spots, muscle weakness and infertility.

Vitamin K

  • Function Essential for blood clotting and bones.
  • Good sources Green leafy vegetables, green tea, tomatoes, wholegrains and alfalfa.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Osteoporosis and bleeding.

Calcium

  • Function Essential for bones and teeth.
  • Good sources Milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Gum disease, muscle cramps and osteoporosis.

Potassium

  • Function Essential for the heart, muscles and nervous system.
  • Good sources Fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Muscle fatigue, poor appetite, cramps and depression.

Iron

  • Function Essential for healthy blood and cells.
  • Good sources Red meat, shellfish, dark chocolate, liver and pulses.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Anaemia, reduced bone density and growth impairment.

Zinc

  • Function Vital to metabolic processes, also hormones and immunity.
  • Good sources Leafy green veg, nuts, meat, seafood, whole grains and eggs.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Acne, infertility in men, nervousness, poor hair growth, skin rashes and white spots on fingernails.

Amino Acids

  • Function Building blocks of protein, affect everything from the brain to the fingernails.
  • Good sources Dairy, meat, beans, nuts, green leafy vegetables.
  • Deficiency unlikely vitamin and mineral deficiency would hit first.

Essential Fatty Acids

  • Function Vital for all cells, including the brain and nerves.
  • Good sources Butter, oils, milk, fish, cereals and nuts.
  • Deficiency unlikely greater risk is too much causing overweight.

Carbohydrates

  • Function Vital for energy and brain function.
  • Good sources Fruit, vegetables, rice, flour products, honey and sugar.
  • Deficiency symptoms include Lethargy, inability to concentrate..

Food is, of course, meant to be enjoyed and not studied! The simple answer is to eat a healthy, wide-ranging, well-balanced diet. Pay the extra for organic if you can and avoid microwaving.

A current theory is that they may well zap-out some nutrition. As a back-up take a regular multivitamin and mineral tablet. As Maryon Stewart says: "Many of us are deficient in something and don't even know it." So act now before it's too late and illness catches up with you.

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