Walk into a chemist or health food store, and chances are you’ll find a wall of vitamin supplements. Taken for the sake of it, or not used correctly, you may not be getting the benefits a supplement may provide.
So how do you figure out when you do and don’t need supplements?
“Generally speaking, a diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, wholegrains, dairy and water will provide you with the vitamins and minerals you need “, says Chloe McLeod, Accredited Practising Dietitian.
However, we all know there are times we don’t consume such a diet. Maybe you’re under the pump at work and you’re relying on fast food, or you’ve been a tad slack in the eating what you know you should department. Perhaps you’ve been on a restricted diet (for example, you may be eliminating food groups one at a time to see if you have an adverse reaction to any of them.) Last but not least, you may have a food intolerance or allergy that means restricting or eliminating certain foods.
This is when supplements may be helpful. If you have a poor diet in general, a vitamin supplement may support your dietary intake. If there are specific nutrients you lack – for example, iron, vitamin C or calcium, then you may look to a more specific product.
Testing is key to getting the right supplements for what ails you when it comes to addressing deficiencies. Chloe says B vitamins are often recommended for people that drink alcohol over the recommended intake, or those following a vegan diet. But before you head for the shelves, she recommends you have these levels tested by your GP, and also talk to them about food sources – it may be you can address your deficiencies easily through food.”
It’s recommended women of child bearing age who are trying to conceive take a folate supplement as it is recommended for the first three months of pregnancy – when many women don’t yet know they are pregnant.
Iron may also come into play during and after pregnancy - some women struggle to keep their iron at optimal levels throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, and a supplement may help with this. However, too much iron can have unpleasant side effects, so McCleod recommends you see your GP and have levels tested before skipping off to the supplements aisle.
This advice isn’t limited to pregnant women either – your GP may recommend testing your iron levels if you are feeling low on energy, dizzy or nauseous for an extended period of time.
Ageing is another time supplements may be recommended and beneficial. McLeod says there are a number of supplements – think fish oils and glucosamine, that some of her clients find useful for joint health.
Neither last nor least, McLeod says she sometimes recommends a probiotic for people that have had gastrointestinal issues to help redress any imbalance in good gut bacteria.
Ask for advice
Certain supplements may be unsuitable depending on your current health, and others may interfere with medications you’re taking.
Not taking your supplements as directed is also not recommended. In short, make sure any supplementation is thoroughly discussed with a health professional – and be frank about the state of your health and anything else you are taking.
“At the end of the day, supplements are great to have around when your diet is lacking, but they are not designed to replace a healthy diet - while they provide the nutrients your diet may be lacking, they are missing important elements, such as fibre, which are essential for overall good health.”
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