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Do I need to take supplements?

If you are eating a varied, nutrient-dense diet from organic whole foods (brown rice, wholemeal bread, fruits, vegetables, salads, oats, beans and pulses), protein (fish, meat, eggs) with small amounts of essential fats from unprocessed oils, nuts and seeds, then you are probably okay. However, recent studies show that most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone and that it would seem prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.

What is generally not appreciated, is that the current recommended daily allowances do not provide for optimal amounts of nutrients, but are the minimum amounts required to prevent nutritional disorders such as scurvy, rickets and pellegra - a vitamin B3 deficiency producing symptoms of depression and mania. The recommendations have been designed to meet the needs of a healthy population and do not cater for individual needs, biochemical variations, or the common disorders seen in Western society today.

If your diet is not up to scratch, you would benefit at least from a good quality multivitamin and mineral each day. You may also need additional support depending on your circumstances, e.g. if you are highly stressed, menopausal, exposed to high levels of pollution or workplace chemicals - there are many times in life when extra demands are made on the body and we need to respond accordingly. Consult a qualified nutritional therapist who can identify your individual needs and devise appropriate dietary measures for your circumstances.

Can I get enough calcium without drinking milk?

Most people associate milk and dairy products with calcium and are worried that avoiding these foods will lead to a calcium deficiency. However, many populations consume no milk or dairy, yet they experience much lower incidences of calcium related disorders such as osteoporosis.

Although milk is a good source of calcium, it does not provide a balance of other minerals such as manganese, chromium, selenium and magnesium. Since magnesium works alongside calcium in the body, it is important to get sufficient amounts of this mineral too. Unfortunately, most modern diets are deficient in magnesium and we see evidence of this in PMS sufferers and those with low energy levels. Relying on milk and dairy products for calcium is likely to cause further magnesium depletion and an imbalance between calcium and magnesium.

A more balanced source of calcium comes from green, leafy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, nuts (e.g. almonds) and seeds (e.g. sesame). Other high calcium foods include small bony fish such as whitebait and sardines, tofu, beans and chickpeas.

It is not necessary for adults to consume dairy foods provided they are following advice on healthy eating and consuming a diet high in vegetables, nuts and whole grain foods. When the diet is not healthy, a calcium supplement should be considered and this is better absorbed in the form of citrate or gluconate, rather than carbonate. Consult a nutritional therapist or health shop for good brands.

We are told to eat 5 portions of fruits and vegetables daily - but how much is a portion?

Firstly, the five portions mean both fruits and vegetables, it is not five of each. That having been said, ten portions a day is even better, especially for those at risk of heart or bowel disease, and this amount can be easily reached when including salads, soups and stir-fries in the diet.

A portion of fruit is a whole single fruit, such as a medium-sized apple, an orange or two small plums. A handful of berries or half a tablespoon of dried fruit such as raisins also constitutes one portion. One fruit portion may be consumed as fruit juice, but the remainder should be consumed as whole fruit, its fibre intact (this valuable constituent is left behind in the juicing process).

A portion of vegetables is three tablespoons of large veg. such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, or two tablespoons of smaller vegetables such as peas or broad beans. Do not include potatoes in the daily total though - they are a starchy food and do not count.

Here are some simple ways to increase your daily intake:

Include fresh or dried fruits at breakfast, e.g. banana on cereal, raisins in porridge, fruit smoothies (can easily get three portions in a single smoothie)

Prepare stir-fried vegetables several times a week

Start your main meal with a small salad or accompany it with a side salad

Have snacks of raw carrot sticks, celery, peppers or fruit

Eat more vegetable soups and stews

Add extra toppings of vegetables to shop-bought pizzas

Add fresh fruits to yoghurts, fromage frais or ice-cream