Tomorrow sees the coming into force of the Food Supplements Directive – a piece of Eurocratic legislation which, once fully implemented, is likely to see the banning of dozens of nutrients from use in supplements, and also threatens to impose quite strict limits on the permitted dosages of the nutrients that remain. This directive is said to be an effort to protect consumers from the potentially adverse effects of vitamin and mineral supplements. However, some have questioned the appropriateness of the legislation on the basis of evidence which suggests that vitamin and mineral pills are not only generally safe, but may have supplementary benefits too.
Some believe that the Food Supplements Directive has been driven by a pharmaceutical industry keen to protect its patch. Whether this is the case or not, what is not in doubt is the fact that the directive will serve to restrict individuals’ abilities to do something potentially positive for their own health. Some counter this notion by saying that supplements are superfluous on the basis that we get all we need nutritionally from a ‘healthy’ diet. However, the fact remains that many of us eat diets that are far from healthy for reasons that include affordability, convenience and taste.
Even those who endeavour to eat a nutritious diet may not get optimal levels of nutrients. One reason for this concerns the fact that the nutrient content of relatively healthy fare such as fruits and vegetables appears to be in perpetual decline. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition discovered significant reductions in the levels of nutrients such as calcium, iron and vitamin C over the last 50 years in American fruit and veg. A previous study, published in the British Food Journal, unearthed marked reductions in several minerals in British fruits and vegetables too. One explanation for this erosion of nutrient quality concerns an increasing emphasis on high-yielding crops which, while big and tall, have been found to fall short nutritionally compared to lower yielding crops.
Another factor that may influence our need for nutrients concerns the increasingly widespread use of pesticides and other chemicals in our food supply and environment. Such alien-to-nature compounds have the potential for toxic effects in the body and may increase the risk of chronic health issues such as cancer (rates of which are on the rise in the UK). Many nutrients have disease-protective properties, and one might argue that in view of our increasingly polluted planet, our need for replete nutritional status in the body is perhaps greater now than ever before.
When one considers the evidence for a declining nutrient content of our diet and an increased need for disease protection from these nutrients, there does seem to quite powerful argument for nutritional supplementation. To my mind, the Food Supplements Directive is likely to do little else than to increase the already burgeoning disease burden in the UK. Some cynical commentators have suggested that this side-effect of the legislation will be another boon for the industry some believe cooked up this piece of legislation in the first place.
For more information on this issue see www.healthchoice.org.uk