A lot of fad diets will recommend a long list of what they claim to be ‘essential’ nutritional supplements. In most cases, they are a waste of money. This is because most people can get what they need from eating a healthy, balanced diet.
A word of warning
Fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) can be dangerous when consumed in excessive amounts as the body stores them and they can build up to toxic levels.
Excess water-soluble vitamins (Vitamin B and C for example) are simply excreted in urine. Also, pregnant women should avoid supplements which contain vitamin A due to risk to the baby.
Make sure you read the nutrition information on supplements to check the dosages!
Are there any supplements I should be taking?
We can make vitamin D by a reaction that occurs when UV from sunlight reacts with our skin. However, in countries like the UK (where we don’t get much sun!) this is a problem as we don’t make enough vitamin D! The government recommends that everybody in the UK takes a 10-microgram vitamin D supplement each day. You can purchase various brands from supermarkets and pharmacies, and some people may be eligible for free supplements as part of the NHS Healthy Start scheme.
There are also some medical conditions or physiological states which might lead to a medical professional recommending a supplement- for example during pregnancy or in some elderly people. Always purchase from a reputable source and check the label for dosage.
Pre- and Probiotics
Pre and probiotics are becoming increasingly popular as a supplement for gut health. Probiotics are live ‘healthy’ bacteria found in yoghurt, fermented foods like sauerkraut and pills. There is a lot of interesting research, particularly regarding certain medical conditions. After a course of antibiotics, many doctors recommend taking probiotic supplement to replenish your healthy gut bacteria.
Prebiotics are non-digestible food components which pass through to your large intestine where they are fermented and therefore promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Essentially, they feed your gut! Examples include artichoke, raw chicory root and garlic, and they are also available as pills.
If you would like to learn more, you can read our previous post here. Some foods are natural sources of pre and probiotics, so you might even be consuming these in your diet already!
What about a general vitamin supplement?
Some people might turn to a supplement when they are unable to meet their daily vitamin and mineral requirements through diet alone- perhaps they are unwell or haven’t been able to eat as healthily as they would have liked.
It is entirely up to you whether you decide to do this. But remember that foods such as fruit and vegetables contain non-nutritive compounds- things like polyphenols which have been shown to have anti-ageing and other beneficial effects. There are other non-nutritive compounds in foods which scientists are yet to discover and this is an exciting and emerging area of nutritional research. Unfortunately, these non-nutritive compounds are not (yet) available in a pill or supplement form. This is yet another reason to eat your 5-a-day!
To see if you should consider a supplement, read this: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/supplements.pdf