The number one question for most people when it comes to supplements is: do I need to take any at all? Generally, the answer is ‘NO’. You don’t need vitamins and mineral supplements if you’re an average person with no particular needs and you have a great nutritionally balanced diet that includes each of the five food groups and lots of variety.
Unfortunately, though, very few of us have that kind of diet. Only a third of us are managing to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily and that’s the minimum we should be having. We’re not getting anywhere near enough fiber, few of us eat enough oily fish and over 50 percent of the food we eat falls into the ultra-processed category, meaning it contains too much salt and sugar and not enough nutrients.
In Pakistan, there are problems with a deficiency in lots of nutrients, including zinc, iron, magnesium, selenium, iodine, and vitamin D. There are special groups who need supplements because they’re at a certain life stage or have a restricted diet. For everyone else, there’s no easy way of telling whether you should top up.
If you’re tired and keep getting lots of coughs and colds, that can indicate you’re missing out on nutrients,’ says Javeria a dietician. But you might be deficient without any signs like this. People often picture someone who’s low on nutrients as looking thin and pale. But obesity is connected with malnourishment as it usually means someone has a poor diet, high in fatty, sugary foods and low in nutrients.
Here is everything you need to know about vitamins and mineral supplements.
Check for deficiencies
Your General Physician can carry out blood tests to check for common deficiencies, such as iron, vitamin l) and B12. ‘But you’d have to pay for a test to find out if you’re getting enough of other vitamins and minerals,’ says nutritionist Dr. Amina Afridi. Generally, the best way to figure it out is going through your diet with a dietician.
Ideally, you should get your nutrients through your diet because foods contain more nutrients than just vitamins and minerals,’ says Javeria. ‘There are crucial plant compounds in fruit and vegetables, such as polyphenols and all-important fiber, needed for healthy digestion. In foods, the nutrients often have better bioavailability, so you absorb them more efficiently.’ However, she adds, supplements do have an important role. The reality is, lifestyle can make it difficult to have the right diet, and supplements give a precise dose, so can be good insurance.’
A common mistake people make is to take a multivitamin and then top up with additional single nutrients, which could mean you’re taking excess amounts of something,’ says Dr. Amina. In some cases, going overboard with nutrients can lead to side effects take too much niacin (a B vitamin), for example, and you can develop a prickly rash. And don’t assume supplements are harmless.
‘Beta-carotene is shown to raise the risk of lung cancer in smokers, for example’, says Javeria. ‘And if you have a health condition or are on medication, speak to your doctor first. Fish oils, for example, can be dangerous when taken with the blood thinning drug warfarin.’
Choose Your Format
What type of vitamin supplement is best? ‘Ultimately, it’s about what works for you,’ says Dr. Javeria. ‘We know most people struggle to remember them every day, so choose a format that’s convenient.’
Keep a vitamin or mineral spray next to your toothbrush to remind you to use it, or take a capsule first thing with a glass of water. Gummies can taste delicious, which can be an encouragement to take them but, warns Amina, don’t pop too many. And stick to low-sugar versions.
Know When to Take Them
‘Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K should be taken with food to help you absorb them better,’ says Dr. Javeria. Vitamins B and C should be taken with water as they’re water-soluble. And probiotics are best taken on an empty stomach so they reach the gut without food hampering absorption.
When supplements are a must?
Although you may get away without supplements if your diet’s great, experts agree certain groups always need to top up. These include:
Vegans and vegetarians
‘If you’re vegan or vegetarian, there are nutrients you may not get from your diets, such as vitamin B12 and omega-3s,’ says Dr. Javeria. You may also be low on iron, which is found at good levels in meat. Take advice from your General Physician or a dietician.
One Iranian study found that folate could help ease hot flushes. And as levels of bone-protective estrogen fall, your need for calcium and vitamin D both essential for healthy bones rises. A supplement designed for this time in life can help you get back in balance.
Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive
‘You have an extra need for certain nutrients, chiefly folic acid, which is essential pre-conception and during early pregnancy for preventing neural tube defects in your baby and vitamin D,’ says Amina. Look for special supplements that contain everything you need.
At that time of the month
Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B6 it may help smooth PMS (Premenstrual syndrome) related low moods, research suggests. Low zinc and iron levels can also make PMS moods and other symptoms worse found a study in the American Journal Of Epidemiology. Try a women’s multivitamin and mineral.
When you’re under stress
For many, tough times mean a depleted diet. ‘You may grab nutrient-poor convenience food or simply not eat enough to fit in the vitamins and minerals you need,’ says Amina.
According to Australian research, you may have an increased need for B vitamins when under pressure the research found supplementing with these could help ease stress symptoms.
When you have a restricted diet
‘Dairy is a classic example: some people avoid it due to lactose intolerance or choose to for ethical reasons,’ says Amina. ‘But it’s our best source of calcium, so you need to think about replacing this. If you’re trying to lose weight, you may miss out on nutrients. I see people doing intermittent fasting (IF) diets, but you need to make an effort to get your nutrients in fewer meals on days with limited calories, it’s practically impossible to get what you need.’
She recommends speaking to a dietician or nutritionist who can advise you on supplements.
Quick Guide to Vitamins A, B, and C
Needed for: Healthy skin, vision, and the immune system.
Found in: Oily fish, liver, dairy, and as beta carotene in yellow, red and green vegetables, and yellow fruit such as mangoes.
What you need to know: Too much vitamin A may affect bone health, so don’t regularly take more than 1.5mg daily. If you’re taking a multivitamin, be careful with liver and products containing it. As it contains very high quantities of vitamin A.
Needed for: A healthy nervous system, and helping your body convert food into energy. There are eight B vitamins, including folate, niacin, and biotin. They all have slightly different jobs but also work together.
Found in: Meat, fish, dairy, green leafy vegetables, whole grains.
What you need to know: Vitamin B12, needed for healthy red blood cells, is mainly in meat, fish and dairy, so if you’re vegan you’ll need to supplement this.
Needed for: Healthy skin, blood cells and wound healing, and for the immune system.
Found in: A wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, and at particularly high levels in strawberries, blackcurrants, Brussels sprouts, red peppers, and broccoli.
What you need to know: Vitamin C is relatively easy to get in your diet so it’s not likely you’ll be deficient. But it’s not stored in the body so you’ll need to make sure you get enough every day.
How to choose a multivitamin and mineral
‘Check the label to make sure the reference nutrient intake (RNI) of each nutrient is close to 100 percent,’ advises Dr. Javeria. ‘Look at the number of tablets or capsules you need to take, too. If you have to take two or three to achieve the RNI, you might forget one of the doses so I’d say it’s best to look for a supplement that provides everything in one dose.’
Amina adds: ‘You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot, but buy your supplement from a reputable store.’
What are the most essential supplements?
While a tip-top, balanced diet can cover most of the essential nutrients, there are some vitamins and mineral supplements nearly everyone is missing out on and in these cases, a supplement can be important.
‘Our skin makes this from sunlight and in the Pakistan, the sun isn’t strong enough for us to produce from November through to March,’ says Amina. ‘So it’s recommended everyone takes 10mg of vitamin D from autumn to spring.
Certain groups need it all year round, for example, anyone who spends little time outside, such as the elderly, and those with darker skin’.
‘Most people just don’t eat enough oily fish to get the omega-3 fatty acids they need,’ says Amina. So it’s a good idea for nearly all of us to supplement. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it’s very hard to get enough omega-3 although foods such as walnuts and chia seeds contain it, your body doesn’t use it as well from these forms.
Try an algae-based omega-3 supplement, algae are the best source from which oily fish get their omega-3s.
PRE AND PROBIOTICS
With a raft of research showing a diverse community of gut bugs is essential for our health, probiotic supplements which deliver good bacteria direct to the gut are big news.
Prebiotics feed these good bacteria. ‘Essentially, you need both, particularly if you’ve recently taken antibiotics, as these can deplete the friendly bacteria levels in your gut,’ says Dr. Javeria.
‘Taking a probiotic can top up levels, while prebiotics encourages good bacteria to flourish.’ While fibers the best pre-biotic out there, most of us fall short, which is where a prebiotic supplement comes in.
Final Thoughts on Vitamins and Mineral Supplements
Today we answered all the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask about vitamins and mineral supplements, and also the questions you did not even know. If you still have a question please leave a comment below and one of our experts will respond within 24 hours. Our experts are looking forward to answering all the questions.
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