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The micronutrient gap in British diets

Covid-19 has brought the important of a strong immune system into sharp focus. But are customer compromising their immune health by eating an unheathly diet?

Covid-19 has brought the important of a strong immune system into sharp focus. But are customer compromising their immune health by eating an unheathly diet?

Three out of every four people in Britain recognise that immune health is negatively affected by bad diets, but still many people don’t consume the right amount of essential nutrients. 

These are among the findings of a new report, published recently by the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS). 

"Many Brits badly need a nutrition reset," says HSIS, "with food portions out of control, comfort eating rife and immunity nutrients, such as vitamin D and iron, in decline."

GP Dr Gill Jenkins, co-author of the Immune Health: Micronutrients Under The Microscope report says: "Good nutrition is essential for optimal immunity but, as far as our diets are concerned, key pieces of the puzzle are missing. Vitamins A and C – from fruit and vegetables – and iron from red meat, beans and green veg, are lower than ideal for some age groups, while most adults don’t take a vitamin D supplement as recommended."

Dr Jenkins also points out that fish intakes across the country are too low. This is, she says, leading to a "massive shortfall" in omega-3 fats, essential nutrients that help the body to calm potentially dangerous levels of inflammation during an immune response. 

"These nutrients all play a role in supporting two aspects of our immune function – innate immunity, which creates a barrier against invading pathogens, and adaptive immunity, which helps our bodies to target viruses and create antibodies," explains Dr Jenkins. 

"Given that diets in the UK are far from ideal, it’s a good idea to take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement, as well as an omega-3 supplement if you rarely eat oily fish. Supplementation has been shown to improve several specific aspects of immune health, particularly where deficiencies exist."

A micronutrient emergency

Vitamin A

Essential for the production and growth of immune cells. Low intakes increase the risk that pathogens will invade the eyes and the respiratory tract.

Who’s at risk?

One in 10 toddlers and primary schoolchildren don’t get the recommended amount of vitamin A. All children under the age of five should be given vitamins A, C and D, according to Government guidelines.

Vitamin B

Needed to make the enzymes that extract fuel from food. This feeds the body’s immune cells. A lack of vitamin B6 reduces the production of immune cells and promotes inflammation. Folate deficiency depresses the body’s antibody response, which helps to neutralise invading viruses.

Who’s at risk?

Nine in 10 women of childbearing age have low blood levels of folate (the natural form of folic acid). Vegan diets are particularly vulnerable to low vitamin B12 levels.