The latest trends reported on the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population from the last nine years’ identified an excess of salt and sugar and a lack of fibre. It also highlighted that some of us need to increase our intake of Omega 3, and emphasised that for some of us, our level of vitamin D is likely to be too low during the summer months when it’s harder to be outside in the sun. Lastly, it highlighted concerns around intake of folic acid in pregnant women and those trying to conceive.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth and is produced by the body from direct sunlight, and can also be found in some food. It works to support your bones by aiding the absorption of calcium. Most people know about the importance of calcium for healthy bones and teeth, but not many people know that your body struggles to absorb calcium without vitamin D. This is most important in early childhood when growing bones are developing, as low levels of vitamin D can mean your bones aren’t getting the support they need to develop properly.
Some people should also take vitamin D in summer, including those who aren’t outdoors often, are in an institution such as a care home, or those who cover up most of their skin when outdoors. Children aged one to four should take a daily vitamin D supplement all year round as it’s crucial for healthy bone development. Vitamin D is found naturally in some foods such as oily fish, red meat, liver and egg yolks, but it’s difficult to get the right amounts of vitamin D from your diet alone.
Why is Omega 3 so important?
Omega 3s are known for their brain and heart health benefits. The two key Omega 3s found in oily fish, like salmon and sardines, are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The government recommends that we eat two portions of fish a week, to get enough of these Omega 3s. DHA contributes to normal brain function and normal vision, whilst EPA works together with DHA to help support the normal function of the heart*. If you struggle to eat the recommended portions of fish a week, taking a supplement containing DHA is advisable.
*The beneficial effect is obtained with 250 mg of EPA and DHA a day.
Why is folic acid so important for women?
Folic acid plays a critical role before and during pregnancy to support the development of a healthy foetus. It’s been proven to play a part in reducing the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida, and also supports maternal tissue growth during pregnancy. ** Scientific studies showed that women who had enough folic acid before getting pregnant, and during the first three months of pregnancy, significantly reduced the risk of their baby developing NTDs. It can be very difficult to get the right level of folic acid needed for this critical time through diet alone. The government recommends taking a supplement containing 400µg of folic acid every day, from the point at which you start trying to conceive until you are 12 weeks pregnant.
**Supplemental folic acid intake increases maternal folate status. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus. The beneficial effect is obtained with a supplemental folic acid daily intake of 400μg for at least one month before and up to three months after conception. Folate contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy.