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

Winter wellbeing


Had enough of grey skies and cold weather? Lack of sunlight lowers the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, meaning your enthusiasm to get fit can seem lower than ever at this time of year.

But don’t be tempted to hibernate; it is particularly important to keep active if you want to stay feeling your best and help fend off those winter germs and viruses.


Exercise is an essential part of any healthy lifestyle and you should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week, whatever the weather.

492649930158102_do6Vso4s_cWinter is a great time to try out something new that you can do indoors, so why not give badminton or squash a go? A burst of activity will make you feel far better (and warmer!) than just sitting around at home.


The secret to fighting off infections is to keep the immune system strong. To enhance your immune function this winter try eating plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables and increasing your intake of foods containing zinc (such sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, beans, poultry, yogurt and wholegrains).

Try to avoid too much refined sugar, as this has been shown to reduce energy levels and suppress immune function.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Get equipped


On average only about 20% of us keep our New Year’s resolutions, with some of the biggest failures often found in fitness resolutions. But don’t let the statistics get you down: by following these tips you’ll be better equipped to succeed.


Rather than focusing on one ultimate end goal, try dissecting it into smaller pieces to make it seem less intimidating.

199213983487253074_XwUYjumA_cFor example, if your main objective is to complete a 10K race, your smaller goals could involve running a 5K in less than 30 minutes, adding upper and lower body strength training to increase your muscular endurance, or running 2 miles with a personal best completion time.


By keeping a well-stocked kitchen, you’ll be better equipped to keep up your healthy eating plans long term.

Cheap and easily available, beans (kidney, aduki, flageolet, mung, canellini, broad, haricot) and pulses (such as lentils) are high in protein and fibre but low in fat.  Keep a few cans in your cupboard, rinse thoroughly then add to salads, soups, casseroles and stir-fries for a nutritious boost.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Festive feel-good


Although it is a time of year to be enjoyed, an excess of rich food and alcohol over the Christmas period can begin to add up, leaving you feeling tired, overweight and unfit.

The good news is, you don’t have to forgo the parties and goodies completely to stay healthy and energised this month.


It’s OK to divide your exercise into 10 minute intervals if that’s all you have time for; not only is a short workout much better than nothing at all, but once you’ve started you might 5find that you really do have the energy – and time – to go for longer.

Just 10 minutes of moderate exercise is enough to improve your mood, your vigour and also decrease fatigue.


Drinking too much the night before can mean you’re tempted to pig out on junk food, but why not try something more nutritious to help counteract the sore head?

Eggs not only provide a boost of energy, but they’re also a good source of cysteine; the substance that breaks down the hangover-causing toxin acetaldehyde in the liver. This makes scrambled or poached eggs on wholemeal toast the ideal restorative breakfast.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Happy, healthy holidays


The festive season is traditionally a calorific extravaganza. With party food all around and alcohol flowing freely it can be a real challenge to keep up with good nutrition and exercise habits during the month of December.

However, there’s no need to throw in the towel: these tips will help you to enjoy yourself over the Christmas period whilst still remaining fit and healthy throughout.


An increase in social events can make it hard to keep to your gym routine as regularly as you might the rest of the year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep fit and healthy.

1Take every opportunity to dance at parties or invite your partner/friends to go dancing over the holidays. You’ll have fun and it’ll still be great exercise; dancing uses up between 270 and 540 calories an hour depending on the speed.


If you’re invited to a friend or family member’s house for a pre-Christmas meal, ask if you can bring one of your own healthy dishes (such as oven roasted broccoli with garlic or braised red cabbage) to help out.

Filling up on delicious fresh vegetables will provide you with a rainbow of nutrients whilst ensuring that you are less likely to go overboard on everything else.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Under the weather


As winter draws nearer and temperatures drop, colds and ‘flu-like symptoms are rife. Whilst it may seem tempting to push on through it, exercising when you feel unwell will only set you back in terms of recovery, causing you even more time away from your fitness programme.

If you want to make real progress, take a few days off and get back to it once you’re feeling 100%.


Exercise prompts a temporary rise in immune system cells that attack foreign invaders within the body, meaning that those who are physically active five or more days a week are a third less likely to catch a respiratory infection (such as the common cold).

Although these levels return to normal within a few hours, each session is likely to provide an additional immune boost to fight off infection. So when you’re feeling well, keep your training regular!


Maintaining adequate vitamin stores in the body is essential for an effective immune response: well-nourished individuals are far better prepared to both fight and recover from infections.

Be sure to include varied and nutritious foods such as lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and nuts and seeds in your diet, all of which will provide you with vital nutrients and help boost your protection against germs.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Healthy skin


As one of the largest organs in the body, our skin benefits from fitness and good nutrition as much as our heart and other major organs.

You can use as many expensive creams and lotions as you like, but it is what you put in to your body that will have the most profound effect.


Adding an exercise routine to your beauty regime can firstly calm and rejuvenate the skin by reducing your stress levels. This tends to quieten the adrenal glands, which mediates testosterone- related hormone release and helps control skin flare ups.

Physical activity also increases circulation and blood flow to the skin, giving your skin a plumped healthy glow and influencing the natural production of collagen, a connective tissue that creates the support fibres that help keep wrinkles and lines at bay.


Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin – it helps new tissues to grow and repairs existing tissues. If you are deficient in vitamin A then your skin can take on a rough texture and keratin deposits can form around hair follicles on the tops of arms and thighs.

Try to eat more oily fish, orange or yellow vegetables and low fat dairy products if you suspect you are deficient.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Sugar hit


The more sugar you consume, the greater the rise in blood sugar and consequently in insulin levels within the body.

Insulin not only converts sugar into an instant energy source, it also encourages the storage of fat. Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is therefore one of the most important factors in sustaining your energy levels and maintaining a healthy weight.


Research has shown that long-term, regular exercise can significantly improve the body’s ability to control fluctuating blood sugar levels.

During strenuous activity your body transports any available sugar directly to your muscles, thus helping to reduce excess sugar within the bloodstream (and preventing it from being stored as fat).


Try swapping white bread, white rice, white pasta and sugary cereals for nutrient-dense wholegrain alternatives which take longer to digest.

These foods release their sugar more slowly into your bloodstream, helping to reduce rapid insulin release and keep your energy levels and hunger under control.


© Sarah West Nutrition

No substitute


Eating a healthy, balanced diet is something we all aspire to, but many of us will admit to falling short when it comes to making the right choices every day.

In today’s health-conscious society there are a bewildering range of vitamins and minerals available to supposedly boost our wellbeing, but can they really bridge the gap?


Supplementing your diet with protein shakes can be convenient for gym-goers, but that doesn’t make them necessary. Research shows that if the total quantity of protein you consume in your daily diet is sufficient then it is unlikely that adding protein powder will result in any additional health gains.

Making an effort to eat a source of complete protein (such as meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese or eggs) with each meal is both cheaper and tastier!


They may seem harmless enough but some nutritional supplements can interact with prescription medications – making them less effective – and others (such as vitamins A, D, E, K and iron) can be toxic in high doses.

It is very difficult to overdose on vitamins and minerals from food, so try making some improvements to your diet before forking out on expensive supplements. You may be doing yourself more harm than good.

© Sarah West Nutrition

Fantastic fish oils


When the words oil and fat are mentioned, dieters tend to run for cover. However, what many fail to realise is that the essential fatty acids found in oily fish produce hormones that regulate digestion and insulin production.

Insulin reduces fat used for fuel instead promoting fat storage, so by choosing the right fats, you can actually boost weight loss.


Studies indicate that a combination of moderate exercise and regular consumption of oily
fish can help to significantly reduce the total proportion of fat in the body, particularly in
the abdominal region.

It is believed that omega-3 fatty acids increase the elasticity of blood vessel walls and flow of nutrients to muscles during each workout. Exercise equivalent to taking a 45-minutes three times a week appears sufficient to produce this benefit.


For a healthy, omega 3-rich snack, try blending one 125g can of mackerel fillets (in olive oil), 1 tbsp cooked chickpeas, 1tbsp tahini, 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp chilli flakes, 3 tbsp chopped parsley and the juice of 1 lemon in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper and serve as a pâté on ryvita or oatcakes.

© Sarah West Nutrition