Supplement : something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.
Most people in the world take a multivitamin, or supplement every single day. Are you one of them? Do you know exactly what’s in your supplement, and what it does for you? Let us tell you why you might not need to pop that daily pill...
3 Top Reasons
- You can get all the vitamins and minerals your body may need, in the right quantities, by eating a healthy, balanced and varied diet
- Taking supplements may not give you the same protection as vitamins found in food against your risk of disease, and the quality of the vitamin in your supplement may not match the quality you can get from your food
- High doses of single nutrient supplements or high potency vitamin & mineral combinations can be harmful to your body
Food 1st, supplements 2nd
As evidenced by their name, supplements should be taken in order to fill a gap in your diet or add to your diet, they cannot replace a real food source or be used instead of a healthy diet. We are capable of getting all of the vitamins and nutrients we need through diet alone and this balance cannot be replicated by taking any combination of vitamins or supplements. There are some cases where taking a supplement may be necessary, such as taking folic acid before and during pregnancy, or if you have a medical condition where your body fails to absorb nutrients.
On the whole, most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need from a healthy diet, and taking extra supplements may put your health at risk. If you are taking a multivitamin which gives you more than the recommended daily allowance of nutrients when combined with your diet, it can lead to toxicity. When the body has received the quota needed, extra nutrients will be excreted meaning taking a multivitamin could be an expense you don't need.
Supplements are a great idea if your GP points out that you are deficient in something. Older women may need to take iron supplements as they go through menopause. Vegetarians or vegans may be missing essential nutrients through their diet that they may need to supplement using (aha!) supplements. However, you may not know the quality of the vitamins and minerals contained in your supplement, or whether you are getting the right nutrients in the right amount. By eating a varied, healthy and balanced diet you will be getting all the nutrients you need naturally, and this is the best way to protect your body against risk of disease. There are many micronutrients in foods which work together, and this may not be the case in your supplement.
Are supplements dangerous?
Taking too high a dose of certain supplements can be dangerous. It is important to look at the level of nutrients you are taking into your body in order to ensure you are not overdosing. As cereals, breads and many other everyday items are now fortified with vitamins and minerals, you may be taking in more of these nutrients than you realise. Some common side effects of over-dosing on certain vitamins and minerals include : diarrhoea, hair loss & fatigue, kidney stones, nerve & liver damage. It is very important to check with your GP before self-prescribing vitamins and minerals. Your GP will tell you whether you are deficient in any nutrients, and recommend an appropriate course of action.
I must sound like a broken record at this stage, but there really is no need to take supplements if you are enjoying a healthy, varied and balanced diet. There may be times in your life when you need to supplement a nutrient ‘gap’, but your GP will be able to advise you on the best possible supplement to take, in what dosage and for how long. I’ll leave you with 3 top reasons to get your vitamins from food rather than supplements…
Benefits of food over supplements
- Better nutrition Whole foods (wholegrains, fruits, vegetables & legumes) are complex and contain a number of micronutrients, not just one. These micronutrients work together when contained in food which cannot be replicated in pill form
- Contain essential fibre All the wholefoods listed above contain lots of dietary fibre and most high fibre foods are packed with essential nutrients which will help you fight off disease. Fibre is extremely difficult to pack into pill form so the best way to get this is through wholefoods
- Protective substances Fruits, vegetables, wholegrains & legumes (wholefoods) contain naturally occurring substances called phytochemicals, which may help protect you against high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Wholefoods are good sources of antioxidants — which may help to slow down cell and tissue damage
So there you have it! The best way to get all the nutrients you need, in the right amounts, is to get them from food. So next time you’re about to pop that pill, think to yourself -
- what are the health benefits of this supplement?
- are these promised health benefits relevant to me?
Do you take a multivitamin or supplement as part of your daily routine? How important do you believe it is to your health? Would you consider replacing it with foods now? Tell us in the comments below!