Nutritional supplements – do we need them?

Education360, supplements, vitamins, nutritional supplements

In this article, Registered Dietitian, Leanne Kiezer explains why we need nutritional supplements, who should be taking them, and if they can be dangerous for your health.

Have you ever wondered whether you should be taking a daily multivitamin?  Or whether supplements can offer a quick fix to ensure you meet your nutrition needs, even if your diet is lacking? The unique combination of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in foods cannot be synthetically replicated or replaced in the form of a supplement.  It is for this reason that healthcare professionals agree, that nutritional supplements be used to complement a healthy diet, not replace it.
 
If you're generally healthy and eat a wide variety of foods, you probably don't need a supplement.  That said, there are numerous situations where taking the correct supplement is helpful and important.  Here are some examples:
 
• Women of childbearing age who are planning to fall pregnant should take a supplement that contains at least 400 ug (0.4 mg) of folic acid.  This is to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida that can begin early in a pregnancy. 
 
• Women who are pregnant need additional folic acid and iron.
 
• Post-menopausal women, may find it difficult to obtain the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D without supplementation. As you age, bone loss accelerates, calcium needs increase and your body's ability to absorb calcium and vitamin D decreases.  Both calcium and vitamin D supplements have been shown to help protect against bone loss.
 
• Men and women over the age of 50, because as you get older your body may not be able to absorb calcium and vitamins B-12 and D like it used to.  In addition, there's evidence that a multivitamin may improve your immune function and decrease the risk of some infections.
 
• People with special dietary needs such as food allergies or those with limited diets may benefit from a multi vitamin and mineral supplement. Vegetarians who eat no animal products may need vitamin B-12, iron and calcium supplements.
 
• People with medical conditions such as anaemia or osteoporosis may need a supplement with specific nutrients. In addition, some health conditions such as disease of your liver, gallbladder, intestine, pancreas or kidney make it difficult to digest and absorb nutrients.  
 
• Taking certain medications, such as antacids, antibiotics, laxatives or diuretics can interfere with how your body uses nutrients.  In this case, you may need to supplement extra of these nutrients in order to meet your requirements.  
 
• Smokers, as smoking increases the need for vitamin C. 
 
Can supplements be dangerous?
While there may be a need to supplement our diet at certain times in our lives, the safety of taking a supplement also needs to be considered. A single daily multivitamin is usually safe.  However, some vitamins and minerals are dangerous when taken in large amounts if you take them as single nutrient supplements. For example, high intakes of vitamin A during pregnancy have been linked to birth defects.  Also, vitamin D, niacin, calcium, iron and selenium are toxic in high doses. 
 
Remember that real food contains vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that a pill can't give us.  When we take a nutrient out of a food and concentrate it in a pill, it's not quite the same thing.  Be sure to consider your individual situation and consult a doctor or a registered dietitian if you have any questions regarding taking nutritional supplements.
 
Did you know?
Pick n Pay is committed to promoting health and wellbeing among South Africans, and employs a Registered Dietitian to provide free nutrition-related advice to the public.  Contact Leanne Kiezer via the Pick n Pay Health Hotline on 0800 11 22 88 or healthhotline@pnp.co.za to start your nutrition conversation.


You can also visit www.adsa.org.za to find a dietitian in your area who is registered with the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA)

 

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