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Are vitamins really that good for you? We look at which supplements are worth taking.
Many of us take one supplement or another every day, and we might be more encouraged to do so at this time of year – but are they really doing us any good? Here’s all you need to know…
What did you have for breakfast this morning? Toast? A bowl of cereal? Perhaps a multivitamin, because you never quite hit your daily fruit and veg quota; or an omega 3 to boost your flagging brain power?
Every day, millions of us – an estimated 38% of the population – take vitamins and dietary supplements to stay healthy and ease illnesses, spending £385 million a year in the UK. But could we be wasting our money?
“The body struggles to absorb and use some supplements effectively,” explains nutritionist Libby Limon. “So they should only be taken to redress an imbalance – for example, if you are depleted in certain nutrients because you aren’t getting them through your diet, or you have a higher need due to exercise, stress or illness.”
“Before you consider taking supplements, ask yourself a number of questions,” says nutritional therapist Jacqueline Newson.
What are the potential benefits of taking this?
What is the proper dose for me?
Are there any safety risks with this product?
When and how should I take this product and for how long?
Some vitamins may have a negative effect on certain medications. For example, “vitamin K can reduce the ability of blood thinners such as warfarin to prevent blood from clotting,” warns Jacqueline.
It’s always advisable to seek professional advice before taking supplements. Speak to your GP, especially if you take regular medication, or contact the supplement company directly.
Gimmick or good for you?
Do you really need them?
Before you take any supplements, take a look at your diet.
“It is really important that we eat a varied mix of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, adequate protein, a little dairy food and plenty of fruit and vegetables,” says Jacqueline.
“Supplements should be used to enhance a healthy diet, not as a substitute for actual food. Real whole food provides thousands of nutrients that work together to promote good health and this cannot be duplicated with a cocktail of supplements.”
But if your diet is less than perfect, you can’t – or won’t – cook, or have a chronic illness, then some supplementation, like a multivitamin, will be beneficial.
Is expensive better?
Often, the price of more expensive vitamin supplements is due to better quality ingredients.
“Good quality supplements have more easily absorbed nutrients at higher dosages,” explains Libby. “You really do get what you pay for in terms of nutritional supplements. If you buy cheap, they probably won’t do you any harm but probably won’t do you any good, either.”
Try taking a quality wholefood supplement such as Real Health Wholefood Women’s Multi, £15.99 for 30, which contains no synthetic ingredients and is easily absorbed by the body.