Hidden hunger is unlike the hunger that comes from a lack of food. It is a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals, which often has no visible warning signs, so that sufferers may not even be aware of it. Its consequences are nevertheless disastrous: hidden hunger can lead to mental impairment, poor health and productivity, or even death. This is a global problem, but even in the affluent UK population, 1 in 3 people are affected.

In 2009 exhaustive work by The Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) identified a number of deficiencies in key nutrients in every group of the population. Yet there is still a widely held belief that we can get all we need from a balanced diet.

What is the truth? Let us examine the facts:

  • Good nutrition is fundamental to good health
  • To maintain good health, the human body requires a daily intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from food
  • Many people are short of essential nutrients.
  • Sub optimal intake of essential nutrients is linked to many of the prevailing degenerative diseases of our generation.
  • Deficiencies may not always be obvious, as frequently these people are overweight
  • Nutrients from food – or in the same form as those in food – are the only ones that can effectively meet our metabolic needs and satisfy our “hunger” in total.

The Suggested Optimal Daily Amounts (SODAs) listed below are those published by Dr Paul Clayton in his book Health Defence (2004) and more recently updated in published work commissioned by us. Dr Clayton reviewed over 4,000 studies to arrive at these levels, which are both safe and effective as a guide for the British population.

What We Get What We Need (SODAs) Is Missing Upper Safe Level for Supplementation
Vitamin A ug 1012 1800 788 1500
Thiamin (B1) mg 1.7 8-12 6.3-10.3 100
Riboflavin (B2) mg 2 8-12 6-10 40
Niacin (B3) mg 39 50-60 11-21 25
Vitamin B6 mg 2.4 6-12 3.6-9.6 10
Vitamin B12 ug 7.3 8-16 0.8-8.8 2000
Folic Acid ug 252 450 198 400
Vitamin C mg 58-90 500 410-442 1000
Vitamin D ug 2.9 125 122.1 200
Vitamin E mg 9.3 50 40.7 800
Calcium mg 917 950-980 33-63 500
Magnesium mg 308 350 42 400
Iron* mg 13.2 20 6.8 20
Zinc mg 11 20 9 25
Copper mg 1.5 2-3 0.5-1.5 2.5
Iodine ug 180 280 100 500
Selenium ug 35 185 150 350
Chromium ug 30 110-150 80-120 1000
EPA/DHA mg 100-200 750 550-650 Level Not Established
Flavonoids mg 145 450-800 305-655 Level Not Established
Carotenoids mg 2-6 20 14-18 Level Not Established
Beta Glucan mg 100 200-500 100-400 Level Not Established

*There are 2 distinct population groups relating to iron. Children & women of child-bearing age who need to supplement, and men & post-menopausal women who do not. The figure above is a population average but it is important to acknowledge the differing needs, herein described, when assessing a supplement programme for an individual


The 5-a-Day message is an integral part of this equation, as 95% of our protective nutrients are found in our 5-a-Day. Each portion of fruit or veg we consume gives us nearly 20% of our antioxidant/protective nutrient intake.

The following is the average intake of fruit and vegetables across the population:

Age Portions (Men) Portions (Women)
19-24 1.2 1.8
25-29 2.6 2.7
Over 50 3.6 3.8
On Average 2.7 2.8

Of most significance is that NONE of the groups are getting 5 portions a day. The young people are worst off and it is easy to see that they are storing up significant problems for the future. This is borne out by many doctors who notice that diseases previously seen only in the elderly are now affecting those who are much younger. The following table shows the physiological action of each nutrient, and give you an idea of some of the symptoms and diseases associated with deficiency.

Essential Nutrient Physiological Action / Function Main Symptom Associated with Deficiency of Nutrient
Vitamin A / Beta Carotene Eye health – visual pigmentSkin health – epithelial repair Antioxidant – immune support Protein synthesis Healthy lung function Night blindnessDry, bloodshot or gritty eyes Age spots Bleeding gums Poor growth
Thiamin (B1) Blood productionCarbohydrate metabolism Normal muscle tone The ‘morale vitamin’ FatigueMemory loss Muscle cramps Beri Beri
Riboflavin (B2) Red blood cell productionAntibody production Cell respiration & growth. DermatitisCracks at the corners of the mouth, sore tongue
Niacin (B3) Nervous system functionProtein, fat & carbohydrate metabolism Sex hormone synthesis Oversensitivity to sunlightNervous symptoms Cracked tongue Pellagra
Vitamin B6 Involved in most body systems- absorption, electrolyte balance, red blood cell production, nervous system function, enzyme activation & antibody production AnaemiaDermatitis, sore tongue Nervous symptoms PMS
Vitamin B12 Cell production & longevityDigestion, protein, fat & carbohydrate metabolism Nervous system function Fertility Anaemia Digestive disorders Abnormal gait, muscle wasting & weakness Memory loss & hallucinations Cracks at the corners of the mouth.
Folic Acid Energy productionHealthy cell replication Anaemia & sore tongue, Birth defects
Vitamin C Antioxidant – immune supportCollagen production – tissue growth & repair Poor wound healingSusceptibility to infection, gum disease, bruising & allergies
Vitamin D Calcium & phosphorusmetabolism Cell growth & immunity Osteoporosis & ricketsTooth decay & gum disease
Vitamin E Antioxidant – immune supportBlood vessel health Reproductive health Peripheral neuropathy, myopathy,ataxia & retinopathy Impaired immunity
Calcium Needed for nerve, muscle,bone, teeth & soft tissue health Agitation, insomnia, cognitiveimpairment, muscle cramps & numbness Osteoporosis, brittle nails & gum Disease
Chromium Carbohydrate & fat metabolism- insulin function & glucose uptake Diabetes, obesity, hyper/hypoglycaemia, confusion, neuropathy, raised cholesterol
Copper Haemoglobin synthesisCollagen metabolism & elastin production Anaemia, alopecia, tooth decay,stunted growth, poor tissue elasticity
Iodine Thyroid hormone production -Energy metabolism, temperature, growth & reproduction GoitreSluggishness, slow heart rate, weight gain, constipation Raised cholesterol
Iron Haemoglobin productionResistance to infection Anaemia, alopecia, brittle nails,anorexia, fatigue, depression, irritability & confusion
Magnesium Needed for the metabolism ofcalcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, sodium and potassium Neurotransmission & electrical stability of cells Acid/base balance Gastro-intestinal disordersIrregular heart rhythm, lack of coordination, muscle twitch, tremor & weakness Depression, confusion & irritability Alopecia & gum disease
Selenium Antioxidant, antiviral & cellprotection Thyroid metabolism & fertility Brain health, longevity Protects against heart disease Heart diseaseSusceptibility to infection Arthritis, infertility, fatigue Dandruff, demyelination
Zinc A constituent of over 2000metabolic enzymes Immune system support, energy production & eye health Male fertility & potency Acne, alopecia, amnesia, anorexia,apathy, brittle nails, depression, eczema, fatigue, growth impairment, impaired wound healing, impotence, irritability, lethargy, paranoia, sterility, white spots on nails
Beta Glucan Immune primer – enhancingnormal immune activity against non-self components, such as pathogens and cancer cells Susceptibility to infections, allergies& some cancers
Carotenoids Essential for cellcommunication and redifferentiation Protects skin & retina Macular degenerationSunburn Skin & other cancers
EPA/DHA Cell membrane stabiliser &anti-inflammatory Cardio-protective: Antithrombotic & lowers blood fats Essential for health of joints, circulation & reproduction Heart diseaseDry skin Inflammatory conditions Poor eyesight & memory Reproductive problems
Flavonoids Antioxidant – immune supportHighly protective of DNA Anti-allergic, antibacterial, antiviral & antifungal Membrane fragility, bruising & inflammation Immune insufficiency & allergies Confusion

Additional lifestyle factors that also contribute to the Nutrition Gap

When food intake is reduced, the intake of micronutrients is also reduced, but the body’s requirement for certain vitamins and minerals may actually increase during periods of weight loss.
Each cigarette uses up large amounts of vitamin C and other antioxidants, which is one reason why smokers are more susceptible to heart disease and cancers.
Too much alcohol depletes the body of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and calcium.
Heavy exercise burns more oxygen, and increases the requirements for antioxidants. Large quantities of zinc and other minerals are lost in sweat, and need to be replaced.
Too much sun uses up antioxidants. Extra intake of vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids and carotenoids help protect your skin from the aging effects of the sun
Vegans and vegetarians
Need to plan their diets carefully; in particular, to ensure an adequate intake of vitamin B12 and vitamin D – often short in these diets.
Accidents, illness and surgery
All increase the need for vitamins and minerals, including zinc, calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C, D and E.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding
The metabolic demands of providing for a growing infant increase the need for B complex vitamins, folic acid, vitamins A, D and E and minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium.
The Pill
Oral contraceptives are thought to increase the need for folic acid, vitamins B and C and zinc.
Post-menopausal women
Need more calcium, magnesium and other minerals to spare their bones. Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K and plant-derived phytonutrients are also important.
The Elderly
Digestion is less efficient in the elderly, who generally have multiple micronutrient depletion. Poor dentition, depression, other illnesses and drug ingestion may further compound the problem in this age group.