Two-thirds of us regularly take a dietary supplement. With £1.5 billion spent each year in the UK alone, and the market predicted to grow by nearly 9% this year, it’s rather big business! So, do you really need to take supplements to feel better or are you just creating expensive urine?!
Originally, supplements were a way of adding things to your diet to prevent popular diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies, like scurvy (lack of vitamin C) and rickets (lack of vitamin D). Nowadays, supplements tend to fill in a nutritional gap as a lot of people eat a sub-standard diet (eg less than seven fruit and veggies a day, poor quality protein sources, convenience junk foods).
But what about people who eat a ‘balanced’ diet? It is often thought that they do not need to supplement, as they should be able to get everything they need from the food they eat. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as this.
Reduction in quality
Soil quality nowadays is often depleted of minerals, meaning foods are less nutrient dense than ever before. Additionally, the long distance transportation and processing of foods further reduces the nutrient content and quality.
Health status, medications, smoking, alcohol, and caffeine are all individual factors to consider, as they can further deplete the body of essential nutrients and make it difficult to meet your personal requirements for your body to work optimally.
The supplement lowdown
Before you rush to the health food store and stock up on a few random supplements you think may be good for you, here is the lowdown on them.
Not all supplements are created equal. High street brand supplements tend to be cheap and poor quality because they are full of binders, fillers (ie bulking agents such as calcium, lactose, rice flour, salt and sugar), excipients, and artificial colours and flavours rather than the actual active ingredient. In this case, they are likely to simply be making expensive urine rather than actually getting the job done…so why bother taking them?
Not without risk
A nutrition professional like me will take a more strategic approach to your needs, and will recommend high quality, professional grade and trusted brands. You should also know that just because something is 'natural’, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is safe and without any risks. Supplements can potentially be dangerous. They can interfere with medication for instance. This is the case for St John’s Wort, which interacts with antidepressants and birth control pills. Omega 3 and gingko both interfere with blood thinners like Warfarin. Vitamin A can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
A nutritional approach
I love working with supplements and they absolutely do have a place, but healthy nutrition should always come first. I believe that a few well-chosen, high quality and targeted supplements (rather than picking random ones off the shelves in health food stores or supermarkets) can be a bit of a safety net for those times you might not bring your A-game to your nutrition, and/or when there is something not quite right about your health.
Christelle Page is a registered nutritionist and health coach specialised in weight loss. Visit the Keep Calm Nutrition website for more info on all her services.