Emma Nutrition

Simplifying the science through cooking and education. When I'm not on Mummy duties…


Should I take a multi vitamin and mineral supplement?

The million dollar nutritional question; should I be taking a supplement or are they a waste of money? In an ideal world we shouldn’t need to take additional nutrients; we should be able to get all of our nutrients from food and we would have no health issues to contend with. Getting nutrients from food is more difficult than we think. Firstly there is the issue of cultivation, then there is storage and lastly preparation.

Here’s a video I made on: Are Supplements Bad? For my Friends at BWN

Cultivation – what environment is the food grown in? Did you know that when a tomato is picked from the vine before it is a vibrant red colour it has less of the antioxidants, lycopene and beta carotene, of a vine-ripened tomato? Ever had a tomato that tasted like water and felt like powder in your mouth? How about a tomato that your grandmother grew and picked at its prime? Sweet and velvety right? Vine ripened tomatoes have higher levels of the super powerful antioxidants lycopene and beta carotene[1]. It isn’t just tomatoes that develop more nutrients on the vine or tree. The nutrient chemical pigments in a fruit or vegetable are also the same chemicals that give it colour. Low in colour = low in flavour = low in nutrients.

Storage – too dry, too cold, too moist, too warm, too long. Storage issues have a huge impact on food, as well as supplements.

Preparation – prepackaged food is always lower in nutritional value than fresh, cooking damages (to a certain extent) foods and as soon as we cut a vegetable or fruit it starts to oxidise.

Nutritional status is the foundation of wellness. It is what separates those in robust health to those who are at a sub optimal health. Therefore I conclude that a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is the foundation to optimal nutritional status and therefore to wellness. In fact a scientific review on the topic from a team at Harvard University concluded that everyone should be taking a multivitamin. Suboptimal levels, above those causing classic deficiencies are a risk factor for chronic illness eg folic acid and vitamins B12 and B6 are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, neural tube defects and colon and breast cancers. It is very important to have a product of exceptional quality and efficacy.
How can I find an exceptional supplement?
Look for:
  • Evidence based formulations with clinically effective dosages ie they should have scientific references and be developed by practitioners/scientists
  • High levels of commonly deficient nutrients such as vitamin D, Zinc, Iodine and Selenium
  • Company should have standard formula for general use, as well as specific formulas for men, women, children and pregnancy
  • High strength B vitamins so you don’t need an additional B-Complex
  • Plant based phytochemical that support unique male and female health needs
  • Condition or illness specific formula
  • Professional strength formulas
  • Ingredients that have certificates of analysis ie testing of raw materials
  • Remember that quality ingredients delivered at effective dosages are not cheap
  • Formulas free from binders, fillers and additives

If a company can’t tell you the following don’t buy from them! :

  • Where their ingredients came from
  • Why the nutrients in the formula were included
  • Who developed the formula
  • What the formula is for and who it is best for
  • what relevant qualifications the staff have – biochemistry, nutrition, food science.

In summary have a read of the links below to make your own judgement. I know what works for me and my patients but you have to do what you feel is right for you. Multivitamin and mineral supplements are not intended to replace healthy eating recommendations; rather leading experts recommend they are used as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.



Colour changes and antioxidant content of vine and postharvest -ripened tomatoes

Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults; clinical applications

Most vitamin studies flawed by poor methodology

Vitamins and minerals can boost energy and enhance mood.

The Vitamin C pee myth


Endurance training and lifestyle

Here is an article I wrote during my Masters studies that was printed in a cycling magazine:

Achieving a balance between endurance training and your lifestyle; can Nutrition help?

The ideal circumstances for most endurance athletes would be to train as much as possible and spend their remaining hours of the day resting and recovering. The reality of balancing a job, social life and training means that many people aren’t able to do this and can risk overtraining, overworking or overplaying. All of this can be dangerous to the body, depleting the immune system, reducing cellular nutrient levels and putting additional stress on internal organs. This can affect training and racing performance as well as causing long term damage.

What is endurance training?

Endurance is described as the ability or power to bear prolonged exertion, pain, or hardship. Not for the faint hearted it requires staying power and stamina for repeated long distance training and racing.

Why is nutrition important?

Daily dietary patterns play a pivotal role in athletic performance providing the platform from which an athlete is ready to compete. To achieve and maintain the correct physique for the sport being undertaken as well as to optimise recovery between training nutrition must be considered a priority.

Nutrition goals for training

• Meet the energy requirements needed to support a training program
• Serve as a means to achieve optimal physique, BMI, fat levels, muscle mass consistent with good health.
• Enhance adaption and recovery between training sessions.
• Refuel and rehydrate before, during and after sessions.
• Maintain health and function of all bodily systems at a cellular level.

Nutrition goals for competition

• Achieve optimal weight division if required.
• Load up on nutrients required to ensure optimal energy and performance.
• Achieve hydration before, during and after the event without causing gastric upset.
• Maintain glucose levels during events lasting more than 1 hour without causing gastric upset.
• Provide sustenance after an event to ensure recovery, particularly in multi-day events.

Effects of inadequate nutrition on the Immune System

Perhaps not the most obvious affect of prolonged exercise is the depletion of the immune system. Following exercise there is a window of opportunity for bacteria and virus to take a foothold and cause infection. Further studies are being undertaken on the details of this however there is substantial evidence that carbohydrate drinks decrease the level of infection and there is no doubt that the increased amount of exercise increases nutrient requirements. A combination of different coloured vegetables and a quality antioxidant supplement will increase the immune response, ensuring infection doesn’t occur and that free radicals caused by exercise are excreted from the body.

Overall Effects of inadequate Nutrition

The better known effects are those of impaired ability short and long term due to insufficient intake of macronutrients and micronutrients. It is essential for athletes to ensure they consume adequate carbohydrate, protein and fat as well as vitamins and minerals. These should be consumed in the correct amounts and at the right time.

Before a race or training session hydration is vital. This should be done with fluids that have some electrolytes (minerals) and carbohydrate that will be broken down into glycogen and used for energy so that muscle stores are not used. As well as a concentrated supplement consume a meal 4-6 hours before that contains complex carbohydrates: potato, wholewheat pasta, cous cous, and brown rice.

During exercise lasting over 60 minutes glycogen and fluid stores are depleted. This means energy levels will rapidly drop, and performance will suffer. Muscles will become weaker, nerve impulses slower and lactic acid will build up. Hydrating with water is possible for low level exertion for a short time but after this water will not be absorbed quickly enough. The gut wall needs a combination of electrolytes and sugars to get the water across the wall and into the blood stream. Without these cramps in the stomach and muscles will develop. Using a high calorie energy bar that is easy to digest can help with energy levels.

After exercise pain and stiffness will develop as the endorphins levels become lower. Hydrating during exercise will decrease post exercise pain although sweating and urine losses of fluids still occur after. To compensate for these losses fluid balance should be achieved within 4-6 hours. Drink plenty of water slowly over this time and take a fast acting carbohydrate drink. To ensure you can get the most out of your body for the next session have a lean protein meal within 2 hours, and take an amino acid protein supplement as it repairs muscle fibres and improves elasticity.

Following this take some time to rest and recover!

Some people may also benefit from other supplements such as Coenzyme Q10 for cellular energy or glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM for joint repair. Not all endurance athletes need these however and your Nutrition specialist should be able to advise on your particular needs.