Supplements, do you really need them?

By Antonia Manolios, Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD)

Nutrition supplements are vitamins, minerals, oils, herbs and other nutritive and non-nutritive supplements. In 2011-12, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported, 29% of Australians took at least one dietary supplement per day. But do we really need them?

With dietary supplements being so abundant and with varying advice out there, it is completely normal for people to question if they are getting enough nutrition in their diet. People often take supplements to boost their current diet or in the aim of improving their health. As an Accredited Practising Dietitian, I can confidently say that we can source all our vitamins and minerals from the food we eat. By eating a balanced diet, with a focus on plant-based foods, good nutrition is achievable. There have even been some studies demonstrating that our bodies absorb and use vitamins/ minerals better when they are delivered through the food we eat, compared to when we consume them in a capsule.

Some supplements, such as vitamin D, vitamin A or iron, can have side effects to your health if taken in excess, while others may interact with medications. So it is best to check with your doctor before starting any form of supplement. In saying this, for some people, supplementation is important. For example, pregnant woman need more iron, folate and iodine for the growth of their baby, so a supplement is recommended. Other cases for supplementation include women who are iron deficient, or those who’ve had bariatric surgery so cannot eat enough food to maintain a good level of nutrition.

Our advice is to eat a diet based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and to speak to your doctor and/or dietitian if you are considering supplementation. You may only need to tweak your diet slightly to improve your health.

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