In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in healthy diet and lifestyle. All of a sudden, every blogger and instagrammer is a so called expert. The alluring blogs and YouTube videos of meal plans, nutritional supplements and perfect model like physiques, can make it confusing to know what to do. Many advertising campaigns present nutritional supplements as a magical quick fix to keep you young, beautiful and super healthy, but do you actually need them? If so, which ones should you take?
What are supplements?
The basic idea behind a nutritional supplement is that it “supplements” nutrients that may be missing from your diet. There are many available, ranging from multivitamins to herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort to sports supplements like creatine, branch chain amino acid‘s (BCAA’s) and protein powders to Omega 3 fish oil and vitamin D supplements. The list is endless, but how do we distinguish which ones we actually need?
Who might need additional nutritional support?
People take nutritional supplements for a variety of reasons, mostly with the aim of improving their health. Dietary supplements can be extremely beneficial to certain people, such as; athletes, vegans, pregnant women who are unable to meet their increased need through diet alone, young children or those with limited sun exposure as they’re not able to create enough vitamin D from the sun.
Could you need a nutritional supplement?
Before deciding if you need to take a nutritional supplement it is important to consider your diet and assess whether there may be certain nutrients missing. If there is, could you get this nutrient by adapting your diet first? When it comes to vitamins, more isn’t necessarily better, so you could be wasting your money if you don’t need it. With this in mind, assess your diet first to see if you could make improvements to achieve a more balanced diet without a nutritional supplement.
What does a balanced diet include?
- A minimum of five fruits and vegetables every day.
- Starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes, bread, rice, pearl barley and bulgur wheat. Try to choose whole wheat or whole-grain versions to increase your fibre intake and insure these foods are absorbed slower into your bloodstream, keeping you full and energised for longer.
- Add a small amount of protein to your diet, such as a palm sized portion of lean meat or fish, eggs, tofu or vegetable protein. Beans and pulses are also great sources of protein and high in antioxidants.
- Milk and milk products are high in protein, but they also provide valuable calcium to maintain healthy bones, so try adding products like milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese, or calcium fortified dairy substitutes into your diet.
- To complete your balanced diet always try to eat a variety of foods and aim to limit foods that are high in salt, sugar and fat.
If you suspect you are not managing to maintain a balanced diet through food alone, you may want to add a supplement to your diet.
Keep your standards high!
Many of the products sold via the internet are unregulated and may not meet UK standards. So, when choosing a supplement always choose one from a recognised supplier or a trustworthy source, such as your local pharmacy or supermarket. Always get professional advice from your doctor, dietitian or chemist to make sure the supplement is right for you.
Don’t overdo it!
Always read label to make sure you are taking the right dose and that it doesn’t contain any hidden extras. With water-soluble vitamins, your body is able to use what it needs and excrete the excess in your urine. However, your body will store the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, so taking too much of these could be bad for your health.
Who may need a supplement?
For some groups of people, a vitamin supplement can be very valuable.
Vegans – May not be able to meet all of their nutritional requirements through their diet. For these people, it is worth doing your research and talking to a professional to get some advice. They may be advised to consider talking supplements like; omega 3, vitamin B12, Vitamin D or Iodine.
Children 6 months to 5 years – 7 – 8.5 micrograms of vitamin D to prevent deficiency.
Pregnant women or women trying to conceive – 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended until week 12 to prevent neural tube defects in the baby.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women – 10 micrograms of vitamin D due to increased requirements.
Aged 65+ – 10 micrograms of vitamin D as they cannot make enough through the skin.
People with darker skin or reduced sun exposure – 10 micrograms of vitamin D as they cannot make enough through the skin
- By wary of supplements promising you the fountain of youth, a slimmer waistline or an increased metabolism, as there is no evidence to substantiate these claims. You will likely be wasting your money.
- Some supplements can interact with prescribed medication, so always check with your doctor first.
- Pregnant women should avoid cod liver oil as it contains vitamin A, and any other supplements containing vitamin A as it is harmful to the baby.
- Vitamin E can increase the risk of a heart attack in people with cardiovascular disease, so it should be avoided.
- Effervescent (fizzy) multivitamin tablets contain around 1g of salt, so a non-effervescent alternative may be better for most people.
Try to make sure you are regularly eating a nutritionally balanced diet and have a little sun exposure to allow your body to synthesise vitamin D during the summer months. For some people, a nutritional supplement may be very useful but do your research and always speak to a professional first.