A guide to vitamins and minerals – what are you lacking?

Vitamins and minerals are crucial for many essential bodily functions. However, deficiencies are common – often due to poor diet, use of certain medications, chronic illness, poor digestion or not spending enough time outdoors. Infants, the elderly, pregnant women and menstruating women are particularly vulnerable.

Helpfully, the way you look and feel can often help demonstrate exactly what you might be deficient in and what you’d benefit from eating a little more of:

  • If you feel a rundown and want more energy

Feeling rundown or low in energy can often be due to low iron levels, particularly in women. However, it’s important to have iron levels checked by a GP before supplementing with high dose iron supplements, as an excess of iron can be toxic.

A natural way to boost iron levels is to load up on lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, pulses and soya products. Eating iron-rich foods with a food or drink high in vitamin C (such as a glass of fresh orange juice) will help enhance iron absorption.

  • If you suffer from skin breakouts

Vitamin C is needed for radiant skin and to help blemishes heal properly. The best sources
are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi  fruit, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. These all help to produce collagen that strengthens the capillaries that supply the skin.

1Zinc is involved in the normal functioning of the sebaceous glands in the skin and helps to repair skin damage and keep skin soft and supple. Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.

  • If you’re worried about the effects of ageing

Studies suggest that a selenium-rich diet can help to protect against skin cancer, sun damage and age spots. One way to boost your intake is to eat Brazil nuts – just four nuts will provide the recommended daily amount.

Vitamin E is often a key ingredient in skin creams, but the best way to get your dose is to eat it. Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potato, mango and peppers (orange and yellow ones) all contain carotenoids, antioxidants that the body converts to Vitamin E, which nourish the layers of skin under the surface.

  • If you struggle to sleep

You may be low in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep. Almonds are a great natural source.

Fish such as tuna, halibut, and salmon are high in vitamin B6, which your body needs to make melatonin (a hormone to aid sleep). Other foods high in B6 include raw garlic and pistachio nuts.

Kale and spinach are loaded with calcium, which helpsspinach-dd-02 the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin, so it’s also worth upping your intake of green leafy vegetables.

  • If you’re vegetarian

Vegetarians are often deficient in omega-3 fats. There are two types of omega-3’s – the long chain versions found in oily fish – (DHA and EPA) and the short chain versions from vegetable oils, particularly flaxseed, walnut, rapeseed and soya oils – (ALA).

Vegetarians are often particularly deficient in long chain fatty acids as although our bodies can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, the conversion isn’t very efficient. It is therefore advisable for vegetarians to consider a supplement made from algae derived DHA if you don’t eat fish, or to include sea vegetables in your diet.

  • If you’ve switched to a vegan diet

Everybody needs regular, reliable sources of vitamin B12, which is found naturally only in animal sources. It is therefore imperative that you supplement B12 or include B12 fortified foods (such as fortified soya, yeast extract and nutritional yeast) if you’re a vegan.

When avoiding dairy foods, you may also be low in calcium. This can be found in tofu, fortified foods such as soya, rice or oat milks and green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, sesame seeds and tahini.

  • If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant

When trying to improve your fertility it is worth setting aside a 3 month period to make positive changes to your vitamin and mineral status. If using the contraceptive pill, this can deplete many vitamins and minerals (including vitamin B2, B6, C, A and zinc) and may have a detrimental effect.

liver-detox-smoothie-copyFolic acid is the most essential pregnancy nutrient (both before and during pregnancy), working together with vitamin B12 to ensure that the baby’s genetic materials are fully developed. It is difficult to get sufficient quantities from food alone, so is the only supplement that all women must take before conception.

400mcg per day is recommended from 3 months prior to conception until the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, plus a further 200mcg from food (found in beans, peanuts, avocado and green leafy vegetables).

Retinol (the animal form of vitamin A found in many supplements) should be avoided during pregnancy, as it can cause developmental and birth defects in excess. It is therefore important to be cautious when taking multi vitamin supplements or Cod Liver Oil which can contain high levels of Vitamin A in retinol form.

© Sarah West Nutrition

The importance of breakfast

Upon waking up in the morning, it will have been at least eight hours since your last meal or snack from the day before. Your body needs to refuel blood sugar levels and help regain the energy lost during such a lengthy overnight fast. The best way to revitalize your body is with a filling and nutritious breakfast, to help you meet the demands of the hours ahead and keep you satiated until your next meal.

Our breakfast choices are very important as eat55ing an insufficient breakfast can be a detrimental as eating nothing at all. People who start the day with a cup of tea or coffee plus a sugary cereal or cereal bar, a croissant or a pastry may think that because they have eaten something, they are providing their body and brain with a good start to the day. However, they are likely to also wonder why they are still tired and hungry mid-morning.

Refined convenience foods, such as those listed above, are high in sugar and have very little nutritional value. As a result, they are digested very quickly and their glucose is released almost immediately into the bloodstream. Together with the caffeine, this causes the body’s blood sugar levels to soar and provides an instant energy boost immediately after eating. The downside of this effect is that the increase in energy levels is extremely short-lived. By the time you reach work, your body will be crying out for the next quick fix to boost energy levels and you are likely to need another caffeine fix or sugary snack to keep you going.

So what should you eat? Your breakfast should provide you with around a quarter of your daily nutrients so it’s important to get a
healthy balance from each of the food groups. Breakfast foods containing fibre-rich complex carbohydrates – such as wholemeal or granary bread – combined with a source of protein – such as eggs – will help to energise you and keep you feeling fuller for longer, meaning that you are less inclined to reach for sugary snacks mid-morning. Eggs (particularly the yolks) are also a great source of vitamins A, D, B2 and iodine. Adding vegetables such as tomatoes, lightly fried in a source of healthy fat such as olive oil or rapeseed oil, will add a further boost of nutrients, including vitamin C, folate and cancer-protective lycopene.

Other wholesome breakfast ideas include:

  • Sugar-free muesli or porridge oats sprinkled with blueberries and seeds
    Natural yoghurt served with apple, cinnamon and chopped hazelnuts
  • Reduced salt Baked Beans on wholemeal toast
  • A vegetable and ham omelette20120531-154158-800x533
  • A fruit smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit and live yogurt
  • Tinned sardines/ mackerel on wholemeal toast
  • A grilled lean bacon and fresh tomato sandwich
  • Nut butter (including peanut, cashew, hazelnut or almond) on wholemeal toast.

Drinking a glass of fresh orange juice alongside your breakfast instead of tea of coffee will help you to absorb the iron from your food and further assist your energy levels, whereas caffeine interferes with iron absorption so should ideally be avoided around meal times.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Everyday energy


We all know that exercise improves your health and your physique, but it also benefits your energy levels and mood.

If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning and find yourself flagging throughout the day, try the following tips to help you to remain energised.


1Research confirms that regular exercise gives you more energy, so always try to fit in some physical activity. Any kind of brisk movement will do; even walking the dog, doing the hoovering or working on your garden.

Get it done early in the day and your levels of the hormone melatonin will be higher at night, helping you to sleep better and feel more refreshed and alert the following day.


Although they provide a burst of short-lived fuel, refined carbohydrates will ultimately leave you feeling sluggish and tired after eating.

The trick for staying alert is to opt for nutrient-rich, wholegrain carbohydrates, paired with a source of protein. This combination releases energy more slowly and give you a gradual boost of long-lasting energy.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Healthy digestion


Digestion is the process by which food is broken down to be utilised by the body. Once the nutrients from your food have been absorbed, they are used to build and nourish cells and provide the energy needed to keep the body going.


While there are countless ways to improve digestion, one of the most important – but often neglected – methods is through regular exercise.

sos cropped(1)Engaging in just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day encourages contraction of the intestinal tract and improves digestive transit.


Chewing is the first stage of digestion. It not only physically breaks down what you eat, but also signals organs to secrete their digestive juices (such as pancreatic enzymes and stomach acids) to prepare for incoming food.

Next time you eat, try putting down your fork between mouthfuls in order to encourage you to really chew your food well. You might be surprised by the difference it makes to your digestion.

© Sarah West Nutrition