British Diets Not Ready For Winter

Decline in vitamins, minerals, fruit and vegetables could affect defence against winter bugs

Low fruit and vegetable intakes, combined with a steady decline in levels of vital nutrients in the diet since 2000, could mean that Brits are facing a greater chance of ill health over the winter months.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, folate, iron, selenium, and the vitamins A, C and D are all important for normal functioning of the immune system[1]. Yet, as a recent report shows[2], intakes of these exact nutrients has fallen significantly over the last 20 years.

Dr Emma Derbyshire, nutritionist and adviser to the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), says: “Over the last two decades there have been significant declines for several micronutrients including folate, vitamin A, vitamin D, iron, calcium and potassium.  In particular, vitamin A has declined by 20 per cent whilst vitamin D intake has reduced by a massive 22 per cent.

“While we may no longer believe that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, scientists are unanimous in declaring the important of fruit and vegetables for maintenance of optimal health, which includes being able to ward off the effects of winter flu and tummy bugs. Sadly, just over 1 in ten adults eats the recommended 5 portions a day, according to a survey commissioned by HSIS earlier this year[3]. Not only this, nearly four in ten struggle to eat the right amount of fruit and vegetables most days of the week.

“The survey also showed that 46 percent of Brits have “concerns” about their diet, mostly about sugar and fat, rather than how many vitamins and minerals they are getting. With eight in ten adults finding dietary advice confusing or contradictory, we are not going to see improvements in winter health nutrients any time soon”.

Dr Derbyshire’s top lifestyle tips for winter are:

  • Immune support – immune health is highly complex and evidence is growing that the health of the gut impacts on immunity[4]. Support your immunity with a probiotic supplement as well as vitamins A, C and D, folate, iron, zinc and selenium. A daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement is a simple way to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
  • Healthier comfort foods – reaching for hot puddings and custard can be tempting on a cold evening but these can lead to unwanted extra pounds in weight. Go lean and boost your fruit and vegetable intake by trying Greek yogurt with stewed fruit, warming veggie soup or hummous with oatcakes when you’re feeling peckish.
  • Cold defence – studies suggest that high dose vitamin C[5] and zinc[6] can help alleviate cold symptoms. At the first sign of a cold, take at least 500mg of vitamin C and 20-30mg zinc daily until the symptoms subside.
  • Make a D-ate – the autumn leaves and darker mornings are signs that it’s time to start taking a daily vitamin D supplement in line with official advice. Stock up on a supplement providing 10 micrograms per day for adults and children aged over 1 year. Babies should have vitamin D drops so long as they’re not receiving more than 500ml of formula milk daily.
  • Sluggish solution – darker mornings mean it’s harder to wake up and get going. Now is the time to focus on good bedtime habits, such as avoiding screens for the last couple of hours before bed and taking a relaxing bath – or invest in a white light alarm clock to kick start your day.


[1] EU Nutrition and Health Claims register

[2] Health Supplements Information Service (2019)

[3] Poll of 1022 representative UK adults conducted in 2019