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Introducing our new Nutrition Check, the perfect way to tell whether the diet you are following is good for you or is causing insufficiency or deficiency in important vitamins and minerals.
Plant-based, keto, clean, gluten free, flexitarian, vegetarian, high-fat-low-carb (HFLC): everyone has a label for their diet nowadays and it is becoming entirely normal to cut entire food groups completely out of our diets. With reports that even the Queen’s future grandchild, Baby Sussex, is expected to be raised on a vegan diet, it seems that restrictive diets are going mainstream. So what can this mean for our health?
Everywhere we turn there are conflicting stories about what we should eat and what we shouldn’t - so much so that it is sometimes impossible to know which direction to take. Should we all just take supplements blindly and hope for the best? We don’t think so. Even the supplement industry is under scrutiny with study after study finding few health benefits and potential health risks from taking supplements. It seems we’re much better off getting the vitamins and minerals from the whole foods in which they originate rather than concentrated into a pill or potion.
So how can we really tell whether the diet we are following is good for us or is causing insufficiency or deficiency in important vitamins and minerals? A clue can be in how we feel, as being low in certain vitamins and minerals can cause symptoms ranging from lack of energy, increased susceptibility to infections to muscle aches and pains. However, some of these symptoms can take a long time to appear, and all the while your stores of iron, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin D can be declining. Read more about the importance of vitamins and minerals here.
One of the best ways to know whether you are at risk of low vitamins and minerals is to measure your levels in a blood test which is why we designed our new Nutrition Check. This includes tests for the common vitamins and minerals that you could be missing out on if you leave out certain food groups - or, if you simply know that you aren’t eating as well as you could be.
Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for a healthy nervous system, red blood cell production and DNA synthesis. Vegans struggle to get enough vitamin B12 through food as it is found almost exclusively in animal-based products. It is important for everyone to check their B12 levels but those who follow a vegan diet are at a greater risk of B12 deficiency so checking their B12 levels is very important.
Folate is a water-soluble vitamin needed by the body in your diet every day. It plays a role in DNA replication and protection, it's important for healthy red blood cell production as well as in the prevention of neural tube defects in babies. Folate is found in vegetables, cereals, citrus fruits and many foods are also fortified with synthetic folate, or folic acid.
Vitamin D comes from the food we eat and is activated by the action of sunshine on our skin. Sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and mushrooms, but whatever diet you eat, it is difficult for anyone in the UK to have adequate levels of vitamin D in winter when sunshine is in short supply.
Iron is essential to help carry oxygen around the body, iron rich foods include red meat and leafy green vegetables. Despite its importance for health, iron deficiency is a prevalent nutritional problem both in the UK and worldwide. Ferritin is a protein which stores iron in your cells for your body to use later. Measuring ferritin levels gives us a good indication of the amount of iron stored in your body.
Magnesium is an important mineral needed for proper muscle, nerve, and enzyme function. It helps the body make and use energy and aids the movement of electrolytes such as potassium and sodium into and out of cells. Magnesium is found in fibre-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, wholemeal bread and brown rice as well as in fish and meat.
Zinc is necessary for immune function, wound healing, taste, smell and is essential for cell division and growth. Our bodies require only a small amount of zinc to function properly. Zinc can be found in red meat, poultry, pulses, seeds and nuts. Too much zinc can be harmful as excessive absorption of zinc can also suppress copper and iron absorption. The free zinc ion in solution is highly toxic to plants, invertebrates, and even vertebrate fish.
Although family history plays a role in your cholesterol levels, your diet and lifestyle can make a difference too. We include a cholesterol check into your Nutrition Check to see whether you have healthy levels of LDL (bad) and HDL (protective) cholesterol. If you follow a keto diet you may also want to keep an eye on your cholesterol levels; although many people experience an improvement, there is a small subset of people who see their cholesterol levels go in the wrong direction.
Inflammation is increasingly recognised as a risk-factor in the development of many chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke. Diet and lifestyle plays an important role in keeping inflammation levels low. A diet high in whole-foods, lots of different coloured plants and vegetables and healthy oils, as well as regular exercise can all combine to keep inflammation low.