The Columnist

My life and other disasters…



Should we be taking vitamins?

I’m not going to lie, every Sunday night, head in hands, plagued with guilt after indulging in alcohol and whatever junk the hangover required for recovery – all it needs is a breezy Holland and Barratt advert to fool me into the belief that I’ll supplement my way to atonement.

Whether it makes any difference or not is still up for question.  Some health bods claim that a healthy, balanced diet should provide us with everything our bodies need in order to function healthily. But there is also the evidence of a depletion in nutritional content in a significant amount of today’s produce. Due to changing in farming methods and the use of pesticides. So even the healthiest plate might not be providing us with our recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.

If you’re worried about what you’re eating, it’s important to know which foods provide the best nutritional content. There may be some that surprise you, for example, a potato contains more vitamin C than an orange, shitake mushrooms can contain as much Vitamin D as mackerel and a handful of sunflower seeds could give you your RDA of Vitamin E. Understanding the nutritional content of food is just the beginning in terms of getting a balanced, healthy diet.

Despite the fact that many believe we don’t need to be taking additional supplements, there are certain symptoms that could be the result of a deficiency. This is when it might be worth considering supplementing or increasing foods with high amounts of particular nutrients to meet your daily needs. Women may find pre-menstrual tension relief with vitamin B6 supplements. Vitamin B1 is beneficial for nerve function and can help with restless leg syndrome. A lack of B9 could result in anaemia and fatigue could be alleviated with more vitamin C and vitamin D. These are just a few examples of many, and the information can be daunting.

If you feel you may have a deficiency, then go see your GP who can give you a blood test to determine whether or not you need to increase the amounts of certain vitamins and minerals in your diet.  Self-diagnosis could lead to a mis-diagnosis and as much as the benefits of vitamins and mineral are advertised, you rarely hear about the dangers of overdosing.

The body is able to excrete many vitamins itself, through urination, should there be a surplus. However, too much vitamin A, D, E, and K, which cannot be excreted from the body naturally, can cause problems from headaches, nausea, impaired vision and intestinal diseases. Even some standard doses may interfere with certain prescription medicines.

5-HTP, a mood and sleep supplement, can interfere with Parkinson’s disease medication. St. John’s wort can have an impact on the effectiveness of certain contraceptive pills as well as some blood thinners. Ginkgo biloba, renowned for helping with memory and brain function, can also interfere with blood thinners. Not everyone is aware of the potential risks and this sort of information isn’t on the packaging.  It’s important that you do your research before taking anything, particularly if you are on any other medication.

It’s not just vitamins that you can buy in supplement form, one amino acid that is becoming hugely popular is Omega-3. Getting plenty Omega-3 fatty acids are said to reduce inflammation, essential to the brain and cognitive function, and are especially necessary during foetal development. Due to increased publicity around the increased quantities of mercury found in oily fish, there is an increasing demand for Omega-3 supplements. If you are concerned about keeping fish in your diet but unsure of which has the highest mercury levels, it is recommended to avoid larger types such as swordfish and shark. Tuna is to be eaten in moderation, seeing more levels than other alternatives, which you may wish to substitute for salmon or halibut.

Increasing certain green vegetables in your diet such as kale and spinach, could also make up for the shortfall in Omega-3, as too much also comes with it’s risks; potential side effects include prolonged bleeding, low blood pressure and digestion problems.

My advice would be to ensure you eat a balanced diet. Where possible, buy produce from local suppliers and, if you can afford too, organic products will guarantee quality and less nutrient-killing pesticides.  If you think you are suffering from a deficiency, don’t go mad at the health shop (even if Gethin is telling you it’s buy 1 get one free), ask your doctor for a test and take their advice.


You can find a comprehensive table of vitamins, their function in the body and which foods you can find them in here. 

The Fast Diet

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 6 months, you would have come across the latest fad in the world of weight loss. The New York Times and UK’s No.1 best selling book, The Fast Diet offers an alternative view to dieting. Basically, you follow the ratio 5:2, meaning for 5 days a week, you eat normally and the other two, you fast by only consuming a quarter of your recommended daily calories. Apparently it has proven to help aid weight loss as well as a number of other health benefits. My only question is this… if your normal eating habits consist of daily visits to KFC, deep frying your veg and tanking a tub of Ben and Jerry’s, then surely, it’ll take more than just two days of cutting down a week to make a difference? Apparently not (although no healthy regime would recommend any of the above and neither do I.)

Fasting isn’t something these guys have taken off the wind; it’s been long regarded as a necessary medical precaution in contemporary medicine.  Below are some examples of medical procedures, which require patients to abstain from eating:

  • Blood test – eating before a blood test may interfere with results.
  • Cholesterol testing – fasting prior to a cholesterol check gives a clearer indication of potential risks of heart disease and stroke.
  • Glucose testing – eating prior to a glucose test will cause blood sugar to spike and potentially interfere with results.
  • Surgery with full anesthesia – to avoid any risks of vomiting and choking while under anesthetic, a fast prior to surgery is vital.
  • Diabetes screening – eating will have an impact on insulin production, therefore a diabetes test should be undertaken after a fast to ensure clear results.

Fasting, as a tool to a healthier lifestyle, has been recommended for years by a number of holistic practitioners. Not forgetting that long-term calorie reduction has been clinically proven to extend life as well as potentially delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Now that science has provided the evidence, fasting is now a mainstream program, not only as a way to be healthier, but to lose weight.

One of the authors of The Fast Diet, Dr Michael Mosley, explained in an interview about the months he spent researching the medical findings on, what he describes as ‘intermittent’ fasting:

I went into it quite skeptical […] But the people who study in this area are really top scientists – world-class scientists who are hugely reputable in their areas. And they were all coming at it from their areas of expertise: cancer, dementia, diabetes – they were approaching it from different angles, but coming to the same conclusion. I found that very convincing.”

Mosley decided to test the method on himself and found his cholesterol and insulin resistance went down AND he lost 19lbs of FAT.

Mosely claims that intermittent fasting encourages the body to lose fat, not muscle explaining that in a standard diet people lost approximately about 75 % fat, 25 % muscle. The Fast Diet results show a loss of between 85% and 100% fat. This is hugely important when going on a diet, as muscle is metabolically active and should be preserved for long-term health and fitness goals.

While The Fast Diet recommends the 5:2 ratio of fasting intermittently, the book does not agree with the faddy ‘juice fast’ concept.  By juicing, you are eliminating the fiber, which is the most beneficial element and has an impact on the glyceamic index of the fruit. A majority of the vitamins are found in the skin and pulp of many fruits, so drinking the liquid, is simply a high fructose liquid of empty calories with limited nutritional value. This would encourage a huge sugar slump, leaving you feeling lethargic, unable to concentrate and, not to mention, starving!

The book doesn’t encourage total abstinence either. It’s not about starving for 2 days a week and bingeing the rest. The regime requires that for two non-consecutive days a week, you eat only a quarter of your recommended daily calorie intake.  So for the average woman on a 2000 calorie diet, for 5 days a week, you can eat as normal, even allow for dessert. For two days a week, the diet is restricted to 500 calories. The results of this program have been scientifically proven to aid in weight loss and to lower cholesterol, give more energy and higher insulin resistance. To find out how many calories you should be eating each day, click here.

It’s not for everyone though. People with type 1 diabetics, children under the age of 18 and pregnant women are not advised to take on intermittent fasting. But as the evidence shows, it might be a new regime worth trying, and for only two days a week, it might be a diet that you can actually stick with. And with bikini season just around the corner, it’s a regime I’m willing to try 🙂

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