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In an age when the global food supplements industry is worth billions of dollars, and even shampoo adverts talk about pro-vitamins, it’s startling to remember that only a hundred years ago the very idea of ‘essential micronutrients’ was controversial. In this list of 20 publications in the field of micronutrient research, we hope to give you a sense of how things have developed, from early arguments about whether ‘vitamines’ were needed for good health, through to the formulation of food policy and recommended intakes by the United Nations.

Along the way you will find: the idea of essential fatty acids; cross-cultural and other research into the links between fat and heart disease; identification of key enzymes and pathways in fatty acid biochemistry; the concept of the omega-6:omega-3 ratio; growing understanding of how fatty acid levels vary in different body organs, and their key functions; data showing how poor many people’s diets are; research on the effects of vitamins and minerals upon different brain regions; work linking poor diet to bad behaviour; a textbook of fatty acid science; research on how dietary changes can alter gene function; health warnings about over-consumption, and a call to take diet more seriously as a policy tool.

Our choices for this list aren’t necessarily the most cited or the most scientifically rigorous. Instead, we’ve tried to make them representative of some of the big arguments in the field, to show how people were thinking at the time they were published. But any such list is bound to be debatable – so please, let us know your thoughts!

(N.B. all abstracts are copyright to the publishers.)

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