Before you come to see me, I email documents for completion so that I have lots of information prior to our first appointment. I ask about lifestyle and medical history, what you are hoping for in coming to see a dietitian and sports nutritionist. I also ask if you are taking any medication or supplements. It always interests me why people take supplements of any kind. ,Sometimes, it’s because a friend or family member has recommended you something. You may have read about the vitamin or mineral in a magazine article. A personal trainer may have recommended a protein shake. As a dietitian, my job is to be informed, and to keep you safe. I look at what you are taking, and consider if your particular supplements are doubling up across each other, or indeed have any evidence behind them. My job is certainly not to try and put you off taking something which you might find beneficial – placebo effect or actual effect. As long as taking the supplement is not harmful, it’s fine with me.
The only supplement the UK government recommends widely is Vitamin D. The advice is intended to complement our intake of Vitamin D rich foods such as salmon, egg yolk and tuna. Because our British winters are cold, with the sun lying low in the sky, we are advised to take a Vitamin D supplement October through May. This is because the stores of Vitamin D we build up in our skin, through exposure to the sun, are depleted during the winter. So,
Advice: take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D daily in the form of a spray or a tablet. Sprays are useful for individuals who may have to take lots of tablets and suffer with pill fatigue. Vitamin D is available in chemists and pharmacies across the country, and health food stores.
What about other supplements?
But do we need to take any other supplements?
A healthy diet is one which contains lots of different nutrient rich foods – a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, pulses, beans, lean meats, fish, poultry and eggs, low fat dairy products, nuts and seeds, cereals, and ‘good oils’. For a healthy microbiome some researchers suggest we ought to be consuming at least 30 different foods each week to optimise the diversity of beneficial bacteria. The onus is on ‘healthy foods’ as enjoying variety of food intake is helpful to those of us who struggle with our weight. It seems we are better able to manage our weight if we eat lots of different healthy foods. But if our diets contain lots of different kinds of snacks or junk foods, we are more likely to gain weight. It’s the healthy vs. unhealthy variety of food that is important here.
A healthy diet can of course include treat or social foods, but these foods should be occasional rather than the norm for a good balance of nutrition.
If you feel you tick the healthy diet tick list then it is likely you do not need a supplement, especially if you are younger (< 50 years) and live a fairly active live. If you are not ticking the healthy diet box, a one a day multivitamin might be good choice, to take in the background as you work yourself towards a healthier diet. Research does suggest that if you can meet your needs through food first, this is always better than taking a supplement.
Advice: Poor diet? Take a one a day multivitamin to help you achieve your micronutrient requirements.
What about vegans and vegetarians?
Vegetarians who enjoy a healthy diet, without eating meat, fish or poultry, but do eat eggs and/or dairy foods, and plan their diets well, are unlikely to require any type of supplement.
The vitamin of most concern with vegans and vegetarians generally is Vitamin B12 as it is only available through animal sources – we consume what’s called a pre-cursor which then reacts with a compound made in the lining of our stomach called intrinsic factor. If as a vegetarian you consume eggs, and/or dairy foods this will help you achieve your Vitamin B12 requirement.
Advice: Take 2.5 micrograms of a Vitamin B12 supplement if you are a vegan.