Did any of you see the TV Programme Professor Regan’s Diet Clinic recently where they discussed food supplements etc? As a rule, I don’t bother watching these much nowadays as I know they will be misleading. I am getting cynical in my old age and often wonder who puts up the money to fund such programmes. I find you can invariably predict what conclusions they will come to which doesn’t really make for useful TV. Anyway, enough of my ranting! If you saw it, you will have seen a 2 minute slot where a panel discussed whether you needed to take supplements or not. I will say straight away that I would much prefer we didn’t take supplements, but experience over the years has sadly shown me that a) people don’t eat well enough to nourish themselves against today’s lifestyle and pollution levels and b) even if they did, the foods are grown in poor soils, sprayed, artificially ripened or processed and stored for so long they are not very nourishing even if we do choose good food. A sorry state of affairs, but unfortunately true.
However, on that panel in the programme was Dr Marilyn Glenville. I thought her response to it was useful so I repeat it here:
Professor Regan’s diet clinic
It was a shame that the section only lasted a couple of minutes as we spent the whole afternoon debating the topic and they said it would be a 15 minute slot. But such is the nature of television.
I wanted to share a number of comments I have about the programme as a whole. The emphasis on the programme was one of having scientific rigour and strict guidelines about which evidence would be accepted and which would not. And I totally agree with this which is why my books are backed up by all the scientific references and listed at the back of each book. It was then amusing to see at the very start of the programme that volunteers were given a pill, told they were pills to help with weight loss but were in fact placebos, and also asked to exercise and follow a healthy diet and when they lost weight then stated that the placebo ‘works’.
For this to be scientifically studied, the volunteers should have just been given the pills, told they were to help weight loss and then told to carry on with their lives the same as normal, eat the same and exercise the same, so nothing else changed except the pills. If they then lost weight, it would be valid to say that the placebo worked. Otherwise the test was a nonsense.
My other area of concern was two women who took food supplements on a daily basis had their diets analysed and were told they did not need to take supplements as they were getting enough nutrients from their diet. The problem is that the analysis was done from food charts which show the breakdown of nutrients in those foods. It was not done by analysing the actual food the women were eating. It is well known that we have a problem with the food we eat in that it does not contain the nutrients it should have. Compared to the 1930s, fruits and vegetables are depleted in minerals by an average of 20% including magnesium by 24%, calcium by 46%, iron by 27% and zinc by 59%. And it even affects meat and dairy foods e.g. iron in meat is depleted by 47%, iron in milk by over 60%, calcium loss in cheese 15% and Parmesan cheese 70%. (The Independent Food Commission’s Food Magazine 2005).
Other tests have shown that just by buying the cheaper tomatoes in the supermarket, for example, can mean a huge percentage drop in lycopene (an important antioxidant) compared to the more expensive tomatoes because the way the way the cheaper ones are forced to grow changes valuable nutrients. A Consumer Which report found that, for example, with green beans, they only contained 11% of the vitamin C they should do. So with all the best will in the world it is not easy nowadays to get everything we need from out diet and just analysing somebody’s diet using charts that have been used for years cannot show this.
The only scientific way to show whether somebody is deficient in certain vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids is to actual use laboratory testing e.g. blood, sweat etc. to see what the level is like in the body. If it is suspected you have anaemia, the doctor doesn’t analyse your food to see if you are eating enough iron-rich foods, you are given a blood test, if you are anaemic you then take iron supplements and are then re-tested to make sure the level is back to normal, that is the best way to test for deficiencies.
The other problem using charts is that they are often based on the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) and these are aimed to give you enough of that nutrient to stop you from having a deficiency disease. So for vitamin C the RDA is 60mg, which would be enough to prevent scurvy, but is not aimed at giving you good health. It is interesting that our Government pushes the five a day fruit and vegetable message but in other countries the target is much higher. For instance in Denmark it is 6 a day, Canada 5 to 10, US 5 to 13 and in Australia and Japan they actually break down the target into fruit and vegetables so Australia is 7 (5 vegetables and 2 fruit) and Japan 17 (13 vegetables and 4 fruit). So, like with the RDA, our fruit and vegetable target is about just having enough rather than aiming for good levels to keep us in optimum health.
My point is that food supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet, but as the name implies are ‘supplementary’ to what we should be getting from our diet but don’t always. This is because some meals are rushed and we have to grab what we can e.g. a sandwich at lunch but also the food itself is depleted in valuable nutrients because of the way it is grown or it is flown several hundred miles and sits in a warehouse for days before it gets on the shelf.
o use good quality supplements from trustworthy companies so you know that they are easy to absorb and make sure that you are eating a healthy diet as well.”
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD 2009