Supplements – do we need them?

I’ve been working with a client who literally must rattle if she walked, which is doesn’t do often. She is largely bed-bound and is trying to use supplements as a way to get her better and boost her energy levels. Now I’m not against supplements on the whole but I do think that we need to be careful with them and use them sparingly.

The nutrition world is growing at such a fast pace and there seems to be a new supplement coming onto the market every week with one for every occasion! A lot of money is spent by people trying to be healthy. But are they really needed?

Taking a multivitamin/mineral on a daily basis seems to be the most common supplement. Whilst this is not harmful and can be very helpful to people who are struggling to eat a balanced diet, it also shouldn’t be necessary for most people. A healthy person should be able to get everything they need from food. The benefits of eating a well balanced diet instead of using supplements are huge. If we think about fruit and vegetables alone there is research linking eating these colourful foods to a reduction in blood pressure, cancer risk, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Your multivitamin isn’t going to do all that. Plus lets face it food just tastes a lot better than a pill.

For some people supplements are a definate yes. Before and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy 400mcg folic acid is proven to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. People at risk of osteoporosis should take calcium and vitamin D. Some vegetarians may need a B12 boost. Anyone with a deficiency may need a supplement to help out for  while and there are numerous people who can’t get everything they need from food for various reasons so need a supplement. In my eating disorder job I often recommend clients take a supplement whilst they rebuild their eating.

But if we can get all our nutrients from our diet it is so much better for us. Think natural rather than manmade. There’s also issues with overdosing on some nutrients. Some of these nutrients will just be lost from the body when it is saturated with them, others can cause tummy upsets and health problems. So be cautious with mega doses! The research is still being done on lots of these things.

Until the research comes in, if you can, try to get as much goodness as possible from your food:

  • Over 5 portions of fruit and veggies a day (preferably over 7).
  • Wholegrains including wheat, rye, barley and oats, the less processed the better.
  • Starchy carbohydrate foods at each meal.
  • Dairy foods 2-3 times a day.
  • Low fat, low sugar options of foods.
  • Lean proteins – meat, fish, pulses, beans.

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2 Responses to “Supplements – do we need them?”

  1. Jo
    11 November, 2012 at 08:10 #

    Hello, I’ve been a veggie for 20 years now. I’m often told I look pale and sometimes feel very tired. Is there a way of testing your nutrients levels to check any deficiencies before guessing and spending loads on suppliments? Thanks Jo

    • 11 November, 2012 at 20:11 #

      Hi Jo, thanks for your comment, you can ask your GP for a blood test, I’d suggest talking through those symptoms as it could be your B12 and Iron are low. I’d agree about not spending out lots on supplements straight away. The GP should be able to direct you to a good multivitamin. If not I can advise on this.

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