Supplements, as the name suggests, are there to help supplement a diet that may be lacking in certain nutrients – and of course food should always come first.
In an ideal world, we’d all get all the vitamins and minerals we need from our diets. But in reality, few achieve this, and our diet can change from one week to the next.
The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys show that significant numbers of people do not get the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) for many micronutrients.
Even for those who consciously eat healthily, the nutritional content of many foods is depleted compared with how it was even a few decades ago (there’s concern intensive farming methods may play a part in this).
But are supplements the answer? GP and nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer and Rob Hobson, Healthspan’s head of nutrition, answer frequently-asked questions: Do doctors advocate people taking supplements? Most health professionals understand the benefit of using supplements sensibly and when necessary. For example, folic acid during pregnancy, vitamins A, C and D for children aged under five, iron to treat iron-deficiency anaemia and calcium for those at risk of osteoporosis. Different GPs have different special interests, and a growing number are studying for qualifications in nutritional medicine. Does a multi-vitamin tick all the boxes, or should people choose specific supplements? A broad spectrum multi-vitamin and mineral will provide a cost-effective ‘back-up’ to cover most needs, but some people may benefit from additional supplements if they choose to exclude certain food groups from their diet.
Examples include vegans, who will benefit from taking a vegan omega 3 supplement.
What if you’re pregnant – should you avoid all supplements? Pregnant women are advised to take a 400mcg folic acid supplement during the first three months of their pregnancy, as well as 10mcg of vitamin D throughout the entire pregnancy and while breast-feeding.
Any other supplement should only be taken on the advice of your GP, midwife or pharmacist.