Last week we talked about macros, this week it’s the turn of the little guy 🙂 Tiny but mighty, micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals. They are mostly derived from your diet, with one critical exception – vitamin D, 90% of which you get from sunshine.
Should I take a multivitamin?
Many people believe they need extra vitamins and minerals in the form of pills. Lots of money is made from this free floating belief that we can’t get the correct amounts from our food, and the idea that if we just had a “tonic” we would feel “better”
Talk about “first world problems”. We are overnourished not undernourished, that’s why we’re here. Where there are food shortages and famine vitamin deficiencies are real and serious. Our foods are fortified, plentiful and full of vitamins and minerals to give us what we need.
The only reason you would need a multivitamin is if your nutrition plan includes full days of fasting or you are doing “the milk diet”.
How do I get all my vitamins and minerals?
Simple. Eat a rainbow. (and exercise outdoors).
Well, obviously, not an actual rainbow. Get enough variety in your daily food intake to include all the colours of the rainbow. Why? Because then you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need:
There are some exceptions.
Vegans and B12
Vegans don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy so they miss out completely on B12 and should take a supplement of this.
You can only get 10% of your vitamin D needs from your food (even if you are a sardine addict). 90% of your supply comes from the sun. In the UK, the sun is only high enough in the sky and strong enough between April and September to make vitamin D in your skin and you need 15 minutes exposure to face and hands per day during that time to store up enough to last you through the winter. As a general rule in the UK, the likelihood of us getting this amount is well known scientifically to be 0%. Therefore, Superheroes do recommend a vitamin D supplement from when the clocks go back to when they go forwards. If you are training really hard, there is some evidence your vitamin D levels drop, too, so you may even want to take your vitamin D supplement all year. 400-800iu daily is the recommended amount, with some studies suggesting taking 1000iu.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
You need extra folic acid and vitamin D. Check out NHS choices if you need more advice.
Absorption and storage
And finally, a word about whether eating the stuff equates to benefitting from the contents. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble. There is some thought that eating fat with your vitamin A or K source (spinach and carrots) will help you absorb it – which I take as licence to add some lovely olive oil to my salad dressing. But the main issue is that you can actually “overdose” on these vitamins as they get stored in your adipose tissue. Too much liver (which contains vitamin A) can be toxic and is not advised at all to be eaten by pregnant women. Vitamins B and C are water soluble and will happily be peed out if you eat too much, but equally if you overboil your vegetables you can lose some of the nutrients. A good excuse for eating chips once a week is to get the vitamin C from the potatoes, which would otherwise boil away 🙂
Iron needs vitamin C to be absorbed properly, so vegetarians and vegans who miss out on the iron bonanza in meat and tuna should consider eating, for instance, their lentil dhal with sag aloo (spinach and lentils are good sources of iron) alongside an orange or glass of lemon water. Iron can easily be “chelated” (get stuck to) other things and also not be absorbed so avoid drinking a cup of tea and eating wholemeal bread with your source of iron.
Calcium needs vitamin D to get into bone and do its work but vitamins C, E and K along with Magnesium and Boron minerals help, too.
So all this is why eating the rainbow at every meal – getting variety, flavour and pleasure into your real food will actually help you take in, absorb and utilise the maximum vitamins and minerals you need, without having to spend money in the “health aisle”!