Calculator: Are you getting all the nutrients you need?

In times of crisis it’s essential we look after ourselves, and a healthy diet is a crucial part of staying fit. Most of us get a good helping of nutrients from the food we eat, but there are a few we’re at risk of under-consuming.

If you think you might be eating too little (or too much) of a particular nutrient, type it into the calculator below and find out how likely that is, based on your age and sex. The calculator will also tell you which ingredients are high in the nutrient, whether you need to consume it every day and what to consider if you’re contemplating taking supplements.

Click or tap the picture below to use the calculator

BBC Food Nutrition Calculator

Nutrients to look out for

The average consumption of fibre and vitamin D is below the recommended daily intake in every age group. But with some nutrients, people in certain age groups are more at risk than others of missing out. Evidence shows, for example, that females aged 11-49 are more likely to be eating too little iron than other groups, and low calcium intake is a risk for girls aged 11-18.

There are more subtle differences between age groups when it comes to consumption of other nutrients. So if you have any concerns, check your risk with the calculator. For instance, evidence shows average selenium intake is low among females aged over 10 and males aged over 14, while average zinc consumption is low for girls aged 11-18 and men and women aged 75 or over.

Of course, lots of us take in too much of some nutrients. Consuming an excess of free sugar (sugar added to food and drink), saturated fat and salt are all common features of the Western diet.

Which nutrients boost immunity?

Many nutrients are involved in supporting the immune system to function normally. “There are no foods or supplements that can protect you from the (Covid-19) virus”, says Sarah Stanner, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation. But, she continues, “our diet does help support the immune system to cope with infections, and so anything we can do to try and eat well can help us get all the nutrients our body needs”.

So are there nutrients we should be especially careful to consume enough of ? “While vitamin C and zinc supplements may be flying off the shelves, it’s important to remember the other key players in the immune system”, says Stanner. Nutrients important for healthy immune function include vitamin D, and as we mostly get this from sunlight we may need to supplement it when self-isolating.

Other nutrients linked to a healthy immune system include vitamin A, which helps support T cells (a type of white blood cells that can help identify pathogens, which can cause disease), and vitamins B6, B9 (folate) and B12, which are important for producing new immune cells. Vitamin C helps the immune cells to attack pathogens, enables us to clear away old immune cells from the site of infection and has a role in maintaining skin – our barrier to infection. Iron is involved in maintaining healthy immune cells, while selenium and zinc help produce new immune cells and copper assists with protecting and fuelling immune cells.

Should you take supplements?

If you are contemplating taking supplements, Stanner warns “it is best to try to get as many nutrients as possible through food sources, as a healthy diet can provide a range of natural compounds that you will not find in supplements”. She adds that there is no evidence supplements can prevent or treat viral infections, but advises that if you are worried your diet will not provide you with all the nutrients you need, you could consider a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.

Some nutrients are not included in the calculator because data isn’t available.