Hundreds of nutritional supplements are on the market for people of every age and include vitamin and mineral supplements, herbal products, meal supplements, and sports nutrition products, among others. Do you or your family need nutritional supplements?
The evidence for nutritional supplements
Evidence for recommending these types of products for everyone is currently lacking. Due to various drug-nutrient and nutrient-nutrient interactions that can occur, as well as varying vitamin and mineral dosages required for various disease states or life stages, it’s best to speak to a registered healthcare professional to help you determine if supplementation is necessary or safe for you.
Certain vitamins, minerals, or other substances taken at mega doses can in actual fact be toxic to your body or cause negative side-effects. If you’re taking supplements, generally avoid those which contain much more than 100% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for certain nutrients (unless otherwise recommended by your doctor or dietitian) but far less for other nutrients, stick to recommended serving sizes, and read product labels carefully including the ingredients list and expiry date.
Get what you need from your food
Nutritional supplements can’t replace a healthy, balanced diet, and they can’t compensate entirely for poor lifestyle choices, such as poor eating habits, a lack of exercise, smoking, and stress, that, if maintained over time, will increase your risk for disease. Although certain supplements and disease-specific products can be helpful for vulnerable individuals (such as those with a deficiency or certain illness, or those who have a medical condition that prevents them from getting enough of a certain nutrient), these products should be used to complement nutrition and lifestyle changes that will contribute to good health and help prevent disease.
A supplement may be required for those who are on a restrictive low-kilojoule diet or have a poor appetite, those not eating two to three servings of oily fish a week, pregnant women, vegetarians or vegans, those avoiding certain food groups for medical reasons, those with a medical condition that affects absorption of foods, or older individuals (50 years and older).
For the rest of us, it’s far wiser to follow a healthy, balanced diet, choosing from a wide variety of wholesome nutrient-rich foods. If you do so, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to take supplements as well. A healthy diet includes a variety of less processed foods, vegetables and fruit, wholegrains, low fat dairy, lean protein (including oily fish), and healthy fats. Additionally limit salt and added sugar, and focus on preparing your own food, learn to enjoy cooking, limit fast foods, and be physically active.
Chat to your doctor or dietitian
If you’re considering taking a supplement, it’s best to discuss this with your doctor or a registered dietitian. A dietitian will also be able to evaluate your individual diet and make personalised recommendations, and if necessary, recommend a nutritional supplement to meet your needs and caution against side-effects and interactions with other medication you may be taking.
The information in this article is intended for general purposes only. If you have any concerns about your health or the health of your child, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.