Do we need vitamin and mineral supplements?

May 15, 2017 | Healthy Living

Vitamins and supplements are big business in the UK. From chewable ones for children, to specially formulated ones for menopausal women or sporty men: there’s a supplement for everyone.

In a perfect world, we’d get all our vitamins and minerals from the food we eat. This food would be fresh, organically grown, and hot on the table when we arrive home. But this isn’t the case for most of us. What stands between us and the perfect diet is time, money and access to ingredients. Or a combination of all three.

To make up for the nutritional slack, many of us rely on supplements or multivitamins as part of our daily routine.

Why do we need vitamins?

Vitamins and minerals are necessary to support the functioning of the various systems in our bodies. But we’re unable to produce them naturally, so we need to get them from the food we eat. If we’re deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, it can be detrimental to our health, so it’s crucial to eat a healthy, balanced diet.

 Which vitamins are essential?

Essential vitamins include beta-carotene, B complex, C, D3, E, K and Zinc. These are all responsible for the metabolic processes we need for survival. They maintain different systems in our bodies and convert food into energy. Beta carotene, vitamins C and E are also antioxidants, which among other things, help erase free radicals, which occur as a result of our external environment, poor diet and not looking after our health.

Pills or no pills?

 In theory, it seems logical to compound all our vitamins and minerals into convenient pills. However, vitamins are a far cry from a cure all. For one, relying on pills for something relatively easy to find in food is like nutritionally taking one step forward and a few steps back. Not only that, but the vitamins and minerals found in foods are easier for the body to absorb.

Food is always the best place to get your vitamins and minerals. And you can tell what vitamins a food contains by its colour. So, let’s go through the rainbow. Red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes contain phytochemicals such as lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Orange fruit and veg such as oranges and carrots contain vitamin C and beta-carotene. Yellow fruits and vegetables contain enzymes which promote healthy digestion. Green fruits and dark green leafy vegetables contain large amounts of vitamin C and vitamin K, which is essential to building strong bones and preventing heart disease. And blue and purple fruits, such as blueberries, are high in vitamin C and powerful antioxidants.

In terms of other key vitamins, vitamin E can be found in nuts, and B vitamins from animal-based products. And while vitamin D3 can also be found in some animal-based foods, it’s hard to get enough of it from food, so a supplement is recommended.

It’s worth bearing in mind that as much as foods are the best source of vitamins and minerals, some foods can hinder the absorption of vitamins and minerals. For example, although not strictly a food, caffeine has been shown to cause the body to expel stored calcium, while grapefruit contains an enzyme that blocks the absorption of certain drugs and vitamins such as iron and calcium. 

Interactions from food and drinks are uncommon, but they’re worth looking into if you have an underlying medical condition.

No substitution

While supplements can help you meet your recommended daily value (RDV) of vitamins and minerals, they’re no substitute for a healthy diet. You can make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need by talking to your doctor or a qualified nutritionist.

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