Women still lack key nutrients, reveals review

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: British nutrition foundation, Nutrition

Authors of a new review on the nutritional status of British women are urging food manufacturers to take a more realistic and “intelligent” approach to the fortification of their products.

Published in the latest edition of the British Nutrition Foundation’s Nutrition Bulletin​, the paper finds that women’s diets remains lacking, and highlights the key role of fortified foods in helping to improve them.

“UK dietary surveys show that, while some improvements have occurred, intakes of key micronutrients, particularly iron, vitamin D, calcium and folate remain below recommended levels. Women’s diets are also too high in saturated fat and salt, and low in fibre, oily fish and fruits and vegetables,”​ write the authors.

The review describes the nutritional status of women throughout their lifecycle, and highlights the potential health consequences – both on themselves and on their children – of failure to achieve recommended dietary levels of nutrients.

Diet quality and health

The authors particularly highlight the diet quality of women of childbearing years due to the added impact on infant health. Around 6 per cent of women in this age group have low intakes of vitamin A, 11 per cent are low in vitamin B2, 9 per cent are low in magnesium and 20 per cent are low in iron.

Levels of vitamin D, folate, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids were also found to be below recommended daily intake levels, and consumption of fibre, fruit and vegetables was also low.

Nutritional deficiencies such as these can increase the risk of chronic disease or other conditions, say the authors.

“Inadequate calcium and vitamin D intakes reduce bone density, salt and saturated fat increase cardiovascular disease risk, excessive alcohol intakes increase cancer risk, low intakes of long chain n-3 fatty acids may adversely affect fetal development and mental health, while adequate folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects,”​ they write.

Intelligent fortification

Lead author Dr Carrie Ruxton told NutraIngredients.com that the review highlights how the food industry must step up to the real nutritional requirements of consumers.

There are plenty of fortified products on the market, she said, but these usually carry a prohibitive price premium that makes them unavailable to lower income populations. In addition, the vitamins or nutrients often contained in fortified products may not match a population’s realistic nutritional needs.

“Manufacturers could perhaps think about nutritional needs and try to use fortification in an intelligent way that meets consumer requirements, rather than in a way that meets marketing needs,” ​said Dr Ruxton.

“They also need to make healthy food more palatable and more available, and this is an initiative supported by the Food Standards Agency. Right now, the available fortified products are healthier, high-end versions in product ranges. We need to take the popular products in a range and make these the healthier options.”

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