Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

An Orange A Day Keeps Anaemia Away!

Everyone knows that you need iron in your diet to make good blood and to stop you becoming anaemic. What few people realise is that if you have plenty of vitamin C in the same meal as the iron rich foods, it makes your absorption of iron easier and much more efficient.

The whole question of vitamins, how much you need, how to get them from food, or whether you ought to be taking pills, is complicated. To help you unravel the vitamin maze here's all the information you need about some of the vitamins that are most important to the health and well being of women. Not only do these vital nutrients make sure that your body functions as it should, they are also part of the larger picture in which good nutrition protects you from serious illnesses including some types of cancer and heart disease.

There are obvious times when both children and adults need more vitamins and minerals, like pregnancy, breastfeeding, illness, before and after operations, or when digestive problems or dental trouble prevent proper eating. The very young and the very old usually need to boost their intake, and those under extra stress or with physically demanding jobs and high levels of sporting activity.

But even the rest of us, who are otherwise healthy, may be missing out because we eat foods which have been processed, badly stored, stale or intensively grown on soils which are themselves deficient in nutrients. Even when buying fresh fruit, salads and vegetables, how they are stored at home can make a difference to their nutritional value. Keeping fresh produce on a rack next to the cooker or anywhere in a warm kitchen, speeds up their loss of vitamins, so make sure yours are in a cool place or even the fridge.

The question most people ask is, "Do I need to take extra vitamins?" The theoretical answer is no, not if you are eating a well balanced diet, and using a wide variety of foods. In fact, few people manage to do this, and even fewer persuade their partners or children to do it. Pressures of time, working couples, poor school meals, and the relentless march of the fast food industry, all make it more difficult.

So you dash to the chemist or health store to pick up a pot of pills, and by the time you have read the umpteenth label, you're more muddled than ever. Do you choose a multivitamin, six individual bottles, mega dose, slow release, vegetarian capsules, tablets made without gluten, yeast, colourings or sugars, a brand with 70 different ingredients, one with 5, or, like so many shoppers, do you leave empty handed.

Natural Health Insurance, in the form of an inexpensive, well formulated multivitamin and mineral pill can be a good idea. It will make up for the missed meal, the extra demands of a stressful life, the vitamin losses during storage, transport and cooking and will also help after illness.

There is a difference between what you need to avoid getting ill, and the amounts of vitamins and minerals which will keep you in peak condition. For women of all ages there are some nutrients, which are of special significance, and missing out on these is not only bad for your health now but has important implications when you get older - they can also affect the way you look.

Vitamin A; essential for growth, skin, night and colour vision. All you need for a day from: 5 g of liver, 40 g of old carrots, 70 g of spinach, butter or margarine, 120 g of broccoli with 60 g of cheddar cheese in a sauce. A powerfully protective vitamin especially against some forms of cancer and a key nutrient for a clear healthy and glowing skin.

Vitamin C; prevents scurvy, speeds up wound healing and is essential for iron absorption. It's a vital and protective antioxidant, which is again important as an anticancer nutrient. The daily dose is in: a dessert spoon of blackcurrants, a lemon, ˝ a green pepper, an orange, ˝ a large grapefruit, a kiwi fruit, 90 g raw red cabbage.

Vitamin D; This frequently overlooked vitamin is vital as without it your body cannot absorb calcium which is used to build strong bones. Lack of this vitamin causes rickets in children and bone disorders in adults, the most important of which is osteoporosis. The action of ultraviolet light on the skin produces vitamin D, which is fine in the summer but not much help in winter time.

The 10 µg that you need will be obtained from 1 teaspoon of cod liver oil, 45 g of herring or kipper, 55 g mackerel, 80 g canned salmon or tuna, 135 g canned sardines. Eggs and margarine are fair sources too. Unfortunately, many young women avoid eating oily fish because they think they're fattening but it's how you build your bones between the ages 25 and 45 which drastically reduces your risk of osteoporosis when you're 75.

Vitamin B6; Pyridoxine; is essential for growth but many women have found it helpful in the treatment of the symptoms of PMS, and it may overcome some of the side-effects of the 'Pill'. Fish, meat, liver and cheese are good sources. A large banana and ˝ an avocado will provide the daily dose. A portion of cod, salmon or a grilled herring will give you nearly all you need.

Folic Acid; vital during growth and development and some birth defects may be related to a low intake. The best sources are dark green vegetables, liver, kidney, nuts, wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals. Get the 200 µg you need from an average portion of lambs liver, a helping of spinach and peas, a portion of kidney beans, fresh or frozen peas, chick peas and raw red cabbage; all supply around 75 µg.

With vitamin pills you don't necessarily get what you pay for and the most expensive are not always the best value for money. Look for the well known brand names and do not waste your hard earned cash on any of the "free from" products unless you know for sure that you have genuine allergies – not diagnosed by bogus tests in health stores or by hair analysis.

You can't live on a rotten diet and expect to be healthy just by taking pills. Sadly, even a good diet doesn't guarantee a full complement of these nutrients so essential for health, so some extra supplements added to good nutrition are a real health bonus.


* Read the labels carefully. Avoid pills with artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. Watch out for added sugar. Many children with asthma, eczema or other allergies react badly to some food chemicals.

* Don't waste money on expensive products which are gluten, yeast, egg, milk, and everything else - free. Unless you know that you are allergic to these, and comparatively few people are, there is no need to go to these lengths.

* Choose products with substantial levels of the main nutrients, rather than huge lists of things you've never heard of.

* Adult formulations are not normally suitable for children. They need specific children's products. Under twos should only get vitamins on professional advice.

* Vitamins may interfere with prescribed medicines, so check with your doctor before starting to dose yourself.

* There are some essentials that it is generally daft to get from pills. Fibre is one, a brand of multivitamins labelled 'Fibre Rich' costs nearly Ł5 for 28 days supply, and provides less than 5% of the daily need for fibre. 100 tablets of oat bran cost more than Ł3 and the dose is 9 pills daily, You would get more fibre, and lots of other nutrients from a bowl of porridge.

• The World Health Organisation advises at least five portions of fresh fruit and veg daily (excluding potatoes) - the average in the UK is half that.
• 10% of vitamin B2 is lost when you boil milk.
• A quarter of vitamin B1 is lost from cereals when they are baked.
• Scrambled eggs lose 30% of their folic acid, but baking them like an egg custard loses 50%.
• 30% of vitamin B2 vanishes when you turn meat into a stew.
• Stir fry to protect betacarotene in carrots, spinach, peppers and broccoli.
• 1 in 4 people in the UK take vitamin supplements - that's 5.5 billion tablets a year.


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