A recent 2018 study of 2,000 UK consumers found 59% reported taking a nutrition supplement at some point during that year. Vitamin or mineral supplements are sometimes necessary, especially if there are nutrient gaps in your diet. It’s always best to focus on food first because supplements should not replace nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle. However, there may be times in life when this can be more difficult and our food intake is less than ideal.
Modern farming, soil quality and food production methods have also changed in the last few decades, reducing some of the important nutrients in our food.
Who needs nutrition supplements?
There are some more specific times when a supplement is advisable. The elderly or disabled, for example, may be more housebound and this could lead to vitamin D deficiency.
Prenatal supplements offer assurance of optimal nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Good nutrition in early years is also vital. The UK Department of Health recommends children aged 6 months to 5 years are given supplements of vitamins A, C and D every day.
People who follow a plant-based or vegan diet should be supplementing with vitamin B12, which is normally obtained from animal foods, to prevent pernicious anemia.
How are nutrition supplements regulated?
There are many different nutrition supplements to choose from. It can be difficult to know which is best for you. Some have been proven beneficial for improving health, others are just pseudoscience.
The supplements industry is largely unregulated. In the UK most supplements are regulated as foods and are subject to the UK Food Safety Act. Companies who make food supplements are not allowed to make claims to prevent, treat or cure a disease. Instead they often refer to better function and general wellbeing, or claims related to nutrient deficiencies with supporting clinical studies.
How to Choose a Good Nutrition Supplement
Trustworthy supplement companies rely on scientific research and independent studies to support their products. They adhere to certain safety standards and will always carry out a thorough analysis of their products. This means that a quality supplement is usually more expensive, you often get what you pay for.
Proof of safety and efficiency
Any good supplement company will also be able to verify the safety, and traceability of their own products. In addition to all this, they should be able to provide robust evidence for the efficiency of their products. Peer reviewed human research with third party testing is the gold standard to look out for.
Quality and safety checks are even more important for some supplements such as fish oil or probiotics. Probiotics in particular are also strain specific, not one size fits all. The finer details are often key to their effectiveness.
Fillers and preservatives are often added to cheaper supplements, along with the active ingredients. This helps to extend the shelf life of the nutrients, fill a capsule or bind ingredients together in a tablet.