Are you struggling to know whether you should take nutritional supplements? It can be hard to know which supplements are worth taking, and whether there are any disadvantages to taking supplements.
In this article we look at whether you need to take supplements and which vitamin and mineral supplements may be of benefit. We also provide guidance on how to choose a good quality supplement and whether there are alternatives to supplements..
Do I Need To Take A Supplement?
In short, no, most of the vitamins and minerals the body needs comes through diet. A varied diet with carbohydrates, a variety of fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses, and good quality sources of protein such as meat, fish, eggs or vegetarian and vegan alternatives should provide nearly everything in sufficient doses.
However, there are exceptions where taking a nutritional supplement may be good for you:
- If you are on a vegan diet
- If you have allergies or food intolerances
- If you have certain conditions like IBS
In these cases, where nutritional intake maybe impacted, or your diet might mean you are lacking certain vitamins - taking good quality supplements in the right quantities are of benefit and good for your overall wellbeing.
Vegan’s often need a vitamin B12 supplement and in winter months the NHS recommends that most people take a vitamin D supplement. You can find out more by reading our article on vitamin deficiency in the UK .
Each individual is different, and with busy lives and when training hard, it’s not always easy to ensure vitamin and mineral intake is sufficient to balance what’s being consumed.
“Although food is the ideal way to improve micronutrient levels, at certain times - especially if an individual’s levels are low - they may want to look at high-quality supplements to try and raise levels whilst making long-term improvements to their diet. Vitamins D and B12, Iron (ferritin) and folate would fall into this category.” explains Sarah Bolt, Founder of Forth.
Deficiencies can manifest in a number of symptoms, such as feeling tired, low energy or mood, a drop in power output or increased susceptibility to illness.
The sure-fire way to know if you are deficient in vitamins or minerals is to do a simple, finger prick blood test, such as the Nutricheck Test offered by Forth. Not only will the test identify which vitamins, minerals and other key elements are lacking, but also provide advice on food and supplements that can help bring them back within a healthy range.
Our article ‘Should I Take Supplements’ provides more information.
Which Vitamin And Mineral Supplements Should I Take?
The supplements you need to take depend a lot on which ones you are deficient in. Once this has been identified, recommendations about which supplements, or the foods that can provide those nutrients, can be made.
As mentioned above, the most common supplements that people require include vitamins D and B12. Iron in the form of ferritin, and folate are other supplements people may need to take. These are all related to the production of red and white blood cells, body metabolism and energy production.
How Are Supplements Absorbed Into The Body Compared To Food?
Nutritional supplements are absorbed by the body in the same way as nutrients from food. This is due to supplements consisting of a synthetic or manufactured version of the nutrient in question.
Because certain nutrients are absorbed better by the body if accompanied by other nutrients, it’s better to take most nutritional supplements with a meal.
You should avoid drinking too much caffeine and/or alcohol around the time the supplements are being taken as they can inhibit nutrient absorption.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Supplements?
There are three potential disadvantages to taking supplements:
1. The first is that some vitamins and minerals are fat soluble, and they can be stored in body fat if you consume more than you actually need. This means that some of these nutrients can, if taken to excess, build up to toxic levels over time. To avoid this, never take more than the recommended daily dose, and using a test like Nutricheck will allow you to ensure you are getting the right amount.
2. The second is that other vitamins and minerals are water soluble, and if you are taking too much of these, or taking them when you don’t actually need to because you’re already getting enough via other sources, your body will just flush them through. This means you are essentially flushing the money you’ve spent on them down the toilet.
3. The third is supplements aren’t regulated the same way that medicines are, although they are covered by food regulations which means they are safe to consume. This does mean that there is a lot of variation in quality and dosage, so it’s worth taking some time to find a good, reputable supplement brand.
How Do I Find A Good Vitamin Supplement
Forth Founder, Sarah Bolt explains that “…Informed-Sport supplements can be used as a mark of quality. This is because products using that mark have to do through an accreditation process.”
The dosage is also something to check as certain supplements don’t supply a full or near-full recommended daily dose, which means that you may not be getting as much as you need from the supplement.
The dosage on Informed-Sport accredited supplements will be accurate, with recommended intake levels provided.
Are There Alternatives To Taking Supplements?
The only alternative to supplements is to ensure you’re getting a balanced diet, however, in some cases of severe deficiency, injections may be prescribed; most commonly vitamins B12 and D. However, this requires a medical diagnosis from your doctor.
How Do I Check My Nutrient Levels?
You can check your nutrient levels through a simple, at home finger prick blood test. Forth offer two products that check a range of nutrients and help identify whether you are deficient and may need to change your diet or take a supplement.
1. Nutricheck tests whether you are getting all the right vitamins and minerals from you diet. It includes Active B12, Calcium, Folate, Ferritin, Iron, Vitamin D and Magnesium, along with biomarkers for cardiovascular health, liver health and blood.
2. Baseline Plus tests 20 key biomarkers for cardiovascular health, liver health, metabolism and vitamin and minerals including Active B12, Folate, Ferritin, Vitamin D and Calcium.
You can also add additional biomarkers to your test to tailor it to your needs.