Nicole Duxbury | March 28, 2018

There’s an English proverb that states: “Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork.”  Nowadays, everywhere we turn we see articles, advertisements, books, websites and fitness gurus telling us that in order to be healthy and live a long life, we must eat healthy foods.

Simple, right? We all know what healthy eating is and what foods to avoid, don’t we? Or do we? The hardest part is, so much of the information that’s out there is conflicting. Carbohydrates are good; carbohydrates are bad. Meat is good; meat is bad. Vitamins and mineral supplements are necessary; vitamins and mineral supplements are a waste of money.

What’s happened to our food?

The truth is, a healthy diet is a balanced diet consisting of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. How we get those elements is essentially up to us. In days gone by, it would have been enough to live off the land, eating fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins as nature intended.

But that’s no longer the case. For starters, modern farming methods are now far more intensive, with farmers being under pressure to produce a much higher yield for lower costs. This has resulted in increased use of machinery, pesticides and fertilizers. These have brought with them environmental impacts including degradation of the soil and water, in turn impacting on the levels of nutrients and minerals contained within them. Many fruits and vegetables have now lost large amounts of minerals and trace elements. In 2014, a study of 43 vegetables and fruits published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that 6 nutrients (calcium, ascorbic acid, protein, riboflavin, iron and phosphorous) had significantly declined between 1950 and 1999.

We're also farming animals much more intensively, with practices that are leading to meat and poultry that’s high in fat. And not only high in fat, but problematic and confusing for health: animal milk and meat are critically important sources of protein and other nutrients for many people – especially the poor – but they also contribute to obesity and chronic disease. Furthermore,, we consume far more processed and junk food in general than ever before, which is obviously high in fat and low in nutritional value, hence its name “junk.”

In short, the quality of the food we’re eating is declining sharply. We’re now overfed and undernourished.

Finding balance

So, is it still possible to get all the nutrients we need from the foods we eat and the water we drink? It would be nice to think that we could all brim with health by living off the fat (ahem…lean) of the land, but for optimal health nowadays, we need to look at the use of vitamins and mineral supplements to avoid vitamin deficiency.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to eat a healthy diet, it just means that we need to give that diet a boost. Think of food as the foundation of a healthy lifestyle and vitamins and mineral supplements as the roof over our heads. You want the best roof you can get, right?

By consulting your personal trainer and/or a nutritionist or registered dietitian, you will not only learn which foods you should eat to be healthy, but also which vitamins and minerals to use to combat the ever-rising range of medical issues that are present in modern-day society.

An invisible necessity

So why do we need vitamins and minerals? Also known as micronutrients, we need these little guys on a daily basis to help our bodies produce skin, muscle and bone; to produce blood to carry nutrients and oxygen around; and to send signals to our nerves. Not only do micronutrients do this, but they also help to convert food into energy, improve our metabolism, repair cellular damage, heal wounds and boost our immune system.  Phew, quite an impressive list for something you can’t see!

In contrast, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to fatigue, memory problems, muscle weakness, impaired immune function, osteoporosis, tooth decay, gum disease, brittle bones and anaemia, to name a few. We’re not here to depress you, but a poor intake of vitamins and minerals can also have an adverse impact on your mood! Rest assured, though. It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.

It's safe to say that these days, you cannot rely purely on your eating habits to provide all of the necessary daily intake for a healthy lifestyle.  Supplementing your diet by taking multivitamins and mineral supplements significantly increases your chances of preventing chronic illness. It’s also a quick and instant way of getting your daily vitamin intake at the right levels.

What to look for

Just like all of the conflicting nutrition advice out there, there’s an absolute superabundance of products on the market. How do you know what to look for when considering adding supplements?  Multivitamin supplements contain a combination of different vitamins and minerals in one tablet or capsule. Generally speaking, you’ll do well to look for one that contains vitamins A, B, C and D, plus calcium, magnesium and iron.  However, if you have a specific need such as joint health, you may wish to look for a combination that specifically targets that health area.

Who wouldn’t want to give themselves the best chance of a healthy life? As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The first wealth is health.”