The real story behind the vitamin scare

Sunday 08 Aug, 2014 

So is it five or ten or should we divide by two?

If you are starting to sweat thinking that I’m about to set a difficult bit of homework please don’t worry.

However I completely understand if you are confused – because I am too.

Believe it or not I’m actually talking about a healthy diet rather than degree level maths.

Over the past few months I have watched in horror as various ‘experts’ belch their personal view about how many
fruit and vegetables we should be eating each day.

For a number of years the ‘accepted’ wisdom was that we should have five portions of fruit and veg each day to stay healthy.

Then last month we heard that we needed ten portions.

Finally another white coat appeared and said that if the produce we ate was organic it counted as double on the healthy scale, so we don’t need to eat so much.

What in the name of common sense are they all talking about? Is it any wonder that those who NEED this advice are completely mesmerised?

In an attempt to be definitive the Daily Express had a front page headline saying ‘Five-A-Day will add years to your life’ and then proceeded to state that a research team from Harvard had shown that more than that didn’t make you even healthier.

So not that helpful.

With so much confusion around the best way to structure your diet, you might think that the best way to get all that you need would be to take vitamin supplements... but again that information isn’t straightforward either.

In the last few weeks the Daily Mail and The Times went on the offensive against using vitamin supplements saying that a study had shown no benefit from using multivitamin pills.

I think it's time we got the story straight. Let me explain how I see the world of healthy diets.

The ethos of the Good Life Letter

Back in 2009 I laid out my views on food and vitamins and they remain unchanged:

“Choosing good, fresh, locally sourced food is the best way to get the nutrients you need to protect yourself from disease and stay healthy.”

It's my belief that nature is an enormous medicine chest. By knowing more about what plants, meats, fats and vegetables can do for your health, you can make better informed choices about how you look after yourself.

Most importantly of all for food junkies like myself... you can eat delicious, comforting, life affirming food and STILL be healthy, happy and free of guilt.

Food is good. We should love it and celebrate it. And we should treat natural whole foods as the essential building blocks for protecting us against modern diseases.

Before anyone reaches for their e-mail buttons to berate me, I also completely understand the opposing view to this which says:

  • Our food is poorer now than it ever was because modern farming preferences for high yields over nutritional quality has driven down the nutrient levels and heavily industrial farming has depleted the level of active nutrients in the soil.
  •  Breeding plants to withstand pests and disease and last during long overseas journeys has been at the expense of their natural vitamins and minerals which we need.
  • And finally, modern transportation methods mean that food is carted half way across the globe and then shoved on a supermarket shelf for WEEKS before you get to eat it.

I absolutely agree with all these statements. There's no doubt in my mind that the nutritional levels of our common foods are lower than they have been in the past.

I wrote about this in my book last year called Everyday Superfoods.

The truth is though, that if you can get fresh and local produce and eat as much of it as you desire then you will be getting all the good stuff that you need.

For many people though this is just not possible.

Huge corporate food retailers have destroyed the local economies and dominate the way we access our nutrition, planners have robbed us of gardens and allotments so we are no longer able to grow for ourselves and generations are growing up without the basic knowledge to nurture the plants or cook them when they’ve harvested them.

It’s a total mess.

So, is it any wonder that vitamin supplementation starts to look attractive?

Are you wasting money on supplements?

What I've discovered over the last few years is that, in the world of health and nutrition, nothing is black and white. There's always a 'But' or a 'Might' or a 'Could'.

Hopefully I cut through a lot of the jargon and gobbledegook and give you plenty of things to think about... ideas you won't see in your bland, towing-the-line media story.

Ultimately, it's your choice what you do with your life. I'm not a doctor or a nutritional scientist. I'm not some diet fad 'guru' who dispenses easy answers or spews out endless dogma. This is an ongoing dialogue and I'm open to new ideas all the time.

So, when I see an article like the one in the Times or Mail which tries to be definitive I always look beyond the headline for the truth.

They say you are wasting your money by buying vitamin supplements but they don’t show how flawed the science behind that statement is.

For a start where did the vitamin supplements come from?

Did you know that the majority of brands that you can buy in shops and on the internet have never been near a fruit or vegetable, instead they are made chemically and often from by-products of the petrochemical industry.

That’s how they make ‘em so cheap folks!

Did you also know that certain vitamins will cancel each other out if they are taken together?

For example, large quantities of vitamin E can interfere with the ability of your body to utilise vitamin K, which is essential to ensure proper blood clotting so this interaction could increase the risk of bleeding.
Using these studies to try to ascertain the efficacy of a particular vitamin is a bit like looking at one player from a rugby team and saying that the entire team are either world beaters or rubbish as a result.
Vitamins are part of nature's rich tapestry of health, they work together and need support to be effective – that’s why they should come from real food sources.

Which brings me to my final point today.

There are times when we circumstances dictate that we need a vitamin supplement due to poor health, stomach problems or just the inability to get to eat the right things.

In some cases, following surgery for example, these problems are permanent due to radical changes to the way our bodies work.

Before you reach for the cheapest option though make sure that you know where your vitamins have come from.

If they have been knocked together by some herbert in a laboratory, chances are they won’t be doing you any good – if on the other hand they are extracted from real fruit or vegetables and are provided in their natural state then they will be available and usable for your body.

Making the right choice will dictate whether you get true value for money and more importantly the health benefits you were looking for.

Here’s the reason why you need to change to a natural vitamin supply.

Yours, as always




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