if we give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, that is best health? Hippocrates.?

It is not just important, it is actually key to wellbeing to enjoy good food and a varied diet. Diet focus should not be on micronutrients but on the diversity of food. An optimal diet should be based on a variety of foods which includes carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This in turn prevents micronutrient deficiencies.

But what is the ideal nutritional balance? Many surveys suggest that a variety of different types of food patterns are associated with good health. A common theme has emerged from these studies. That is, that the bulk of the energy consumed should come from complex carbohydrates (about 50%), fats should mainly come in unsaturated, polysaturated or plant based form (about 30%) and the remainder of our energy intake (about 20%) from protein. In simple speak this means whole foods like wholemeal pasta and bread, pulses such as barley, beans, brown rice, whole grain cereals, oily fish like salmon tuna or mackerel, sunflower and olive oils, nut and seed oil, fish, lean meat, and poultry. The good food you can have is endless and this will provide you with all the nutrients that you need.

The problem occurs where there is imbalance, say for example when you rely say on chips and burger or one food group then there will be the likelihood of a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency. This may present itself through disease or deformity or just simply lethargy or fatigue.


So how would you know if you were lacking in a particular Vitamin or Mineral?

There is no simple answer to this. Specific vitamin and Mineral deficiencies present with specific symptoms and signs. Your Doctor will know which tests to request from your symptoms. Briefly Vitamin D deficiency can weaken bones and present with fractures. Vitamin B12 deficiency may affect your nerves and present either with pain and or numbness in the limbs.

These issues are largely ones for world health organisations. There are National and International agencies set up to monitor and to enhance vitamin levels in food supply. For example iodine supplementation in flour has been widespread for many years and prevents goitre and thyroid dysfunction as well as developmental delay in children. Many food manufactures fortify their product and this in turn reduces the likelihood that consumers will present with a specific medical problem.

Vitamin and micronutrient deficiency has been referred to as ?the hidden hunger?. Globally about 200 million people are vitamin A deficient. The result is an unacceptably large number of people with visual loss. About 25% of the worlds population is iron deficient, there follows therefore a large number of people with anaemia. There are large numbers of the world?s population who are iodine deficient and who present with thyroid problems. There are other populations or individuals with specific and definable mineral deficiencies. Many of these, including for example zinc deficiency, can have devastating world health consequences and as such have become targets for combined World Health and World Food programmes.

Whether we consider global nutrition programmes or individual advice, the focus is on food balance, on provision of staple foods and biodiversity of micronutrient provision. Unless a specific deficiency has been identified there is no particular need to take vitamin pills or supplements.

The global approach is to investigate deficiencies across the world and increase dietary intake either through food variability or by fortifying the staple foods with nutrients. Folate intake emphasises this point. This essential vitamin is especially required to reduce neurological defects in the developing foetus. Foods are therefore fortified with folate in many countries.

Staple foods such as cereals and rice can be fortified with folate in order to prevent the incidence of these birth defects. The same would be the case for vitamin A to prevent night blindness and iron to prevent anaemia. Foods with a high content of a specific vitamin can be targeted and made available with the diet. Chilli peppers for example is particularly rich in vitamin C and will provided many communities with an adequate intake.

The point here is that these successful approaches to nutrition are global. Focused programmes such as the UN scaling up nutrition programme targets the first 1000 days of life. This translates into focusing nutritional help during pregnancy, during breastfeeding, and during the first 2 years of life. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a specific programme aimed at children?s nutrition. The net result of these programmes is to focus on improving brain development and cognition.

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