Not a week seems to go by when we’re not encouraged to take the latest ‘wonder supplement’ and it can be very confusing to know which vitamins our body may need help with in the form of supplements and which are a waste of money. Read on for our guide to when it may be beneficial to take extra tablets, and when you shouldn’t bother…
Most of us can get all the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need by eating a healthy and balanced diet. However many of us choose to take supplements in the belief that we’re not getting the right vitamins (or the correct amount) through diet alone. But sometimes taking additional vitamins can be expensive, unnecessary and potentially harmful if you’re taking too high a dosage for too long and in conjunction with other medication.
Nevertheless vitamin supplements can sometimes be helpful for some people. Always discuss with your GP the vitamins that you’re thinking of taking, why they’re needed and in what dosage.
So what are some of the beneficial vitamins to consider?
Our body makes most of our Vitamin D in reaction to sunlight on our skin. This is why it is recommended that we should try and spend 10-15mins outside daily, without sun protection. Although if you are spending extended time in the sun remember to wear sun protection. Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods including: oily fish, eggs, margarine, yoghurt and fortified breakfast cereals.
However in the UK it can be difficult to get enough Vitamin D through sunlight and diet alone. For this reason, it is recommended that over-65s take a supplement of Vitamin D of 10 micrograms per day. You can buy vitamin D supplements at most pharmacies and supermarkets, but be sure not to take more than 25 micrograms per day, as it could be harmful.
Iron is an essential mineral that has several important roles in the body, including helping to make red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. It should be possible to get all the iron you need from your daily diet as it is found in red meat, pulses and beans, eggs, wholegrain products, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit and fortified cereals.
It should not be necessary to supplement iron unless you have a known reason for iron deficiency e.g. you have just had an operation, suffered blood loss or are vegan. There are also a few techniques that you can use to encourage your body to absorb more iron. Firstly limit drinking tea or coffee to in-between meals as drinking with a meal will reduce the amount of iron absorbed. also try and increase the amount of Vitamin C in your diet and try having a glass of fruit juice with an iron rich meal.
Calcium is important as it helps to build strong bones and teeth, regulates muscle contractions, including heartbeat, and helps blood to clot normally. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are all good sources of calcium, as well as green leafy vegetables, nuts and fish like sardines.
Eating 3-4 portions of dairy products a day should provide all the calcium that your body needs. If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough, it’s best to consult your GP before taking a supplement as high doses of calcium can cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.
There are several types of Vitamin B and they all have different functions within the body, including helping to break down energy from food, keeping the skin, eyes and nervous system healthy and helping to form red blood cells.
Provided that you eat a well-balanced diet, including whole grains and cereals, you should be getting all that you need. However, as we get older it becomes harder to absorb vitamin B12, which is found in meat, cod, salmon, milk, cheese, eggs and some fortified cereals. People who are deficient are at increased risk of anaemia and neurological problems such as memory loss.
Eating fortified breakfast cereals, yeast extract and meat can help ensure that you get enough B12 in your system. Alternatively, you could take a supplement: doses of 2mg or less per day are unlikely to cause any harm.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps to fight disease and infections and aids healing. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables should help you get all that your body needs without taking expensive supplements. You should aim to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables/ day. One portion can be a glass of fruit juice (Try to limit it to just one). Citrus fruit, strawberries, mango, peppers and tomatoes are good sources of Vitamin C.
* Before adding any vitamins or other supplements into your diet please do consult your regular GP.