Supplements: which are the most beneficial and when should you take them?

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With the nation and the whole world more focused on being fitter and healthier, there’s now a whole host of supplements available designed to boost your wellbeing. However, this a well-debated topic in the nutrition industry, with contradicting views on the pros and cons of seeking essential vitamins through tablets. Many still opine that nothing beats taking nutrients from an all-natural source: one’s diet. However, the lifestyle of people today are so fast-paced that it’s often close to impossible to whip up meals that are healthy and well-balanced in nutrients. So, supplements are a very close alternative.

Many of these supplements don’t come cheap either, so it’s important to carefully consider your budget before buying, as well as whether you’ll actually benefit from taking them. You also have to factor in what specific nutrient it is that your body needs, so you know you’ve got the perfect fit. Otherwise, a mismatch will only render your intake of these vitamins useless. Be aware, too, of any misleading and dangerous supplement claims.

After all, consuming too much of certain vitamins and minerals can in fact be detrimental to your health – and many people will be able to get adequate amounts through a well-balanced diet. So which supplements are worth investing in? We explore the answers here. 

B vitamins

There are many different types of B vitamins, all of which are essential for maintaining healthy bodily functions. For instance, vitamin B1 and B3 help turn food into energy, vitamin B2 assists with eye, bone and nervous system health, vitamin B6 helps create haemoglobin and vitamin B12 is involved in creating red blood cells. Due to the wide-ranging benefits of B vitamins, it’s essential to maintain adequate levels of each. 

You should be able to source the right amounts by consuming a healthy balanced diet, but there are certain circumstances in which a supplement may be of benefit. For instance, the NHS currently recommends pregnant women take a folic acid supplement each day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to help reduce the likelihood of birth defects. For more information, check out the NHS information on B vitamins and folic acid.

Probiotics

When you look through the aisles of shops selling all sorts of healthy products, it’s impossible not to come across probiotics. These refer to the capsules or tablets that are also known as good bacteria. They line one’s digestive tract for better absorption of nutrients.

An important word of caution along this line, however, is to remember that there are many different strains of probiotics. You’ve got to choose the right one, usually with the help of your doctor.

Iron

This important mineral helps to maintain healthy function of haemoglobin – a red protein in the blood that transports oxygen around the body. A lack of iron can cause health problems like anaemia. The NHS website states that “you should be able to get all the iron you need from your daily diet” as it can be found in foods such as meat, nuts, green vegetables and wholegrains. 

However, certain people may benefit from a supplement to boost iron levels. For instance, vegans, vegetarians and women with heavy or prolonged periods may be more at risk of low iron levels, and may wish to top this up with a tablet. Of course, it’s important to speak to a GP or dietician for advice, as consuming too much may be harmful.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for maintaining healthy bones, teeth and muscles – without it, children and adults can develop health issues such as bone pain or deformities such as rickets. The easiest way to boost vitamin D levels is by going outdoors, as our bodies produce it from direct sunlight.  But also remember the danger of getting too much sunshine. On hours when the sun is still harmful – from 9 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon – exposure to the sun may also lead to skin cancer. So, you’ve got to create that right balance. Plus, when you’re also spending the entire day at an office working, it can also be difficult to have a natural source of Vitamin D.

Luckily, Vitamin D is also found in certain foods, such as red meat, eggs and fish. So, is it worth taking vitamin D supplements? 

According to the British Nutrition Foundation, around 1 in 5 people in the UK have low vitamin D levels. In spring and summer time, most of us will get enough vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, however this is much more difficult in winter months, when days are darker and we spend more time indoors. It is at this time of year when our bodies rely on getting enough vitamin D through our diet, which can be tricky, particularly for vegetarians and vegans. For this reason, it may be worth taking vitamin D tablets.

To determine if you’re the right candidate for taking in Vitamin D supplements, a blood test will be called for by your doctor. So, don’t make this choice by yourself.

Conclusion

All these said, it’s important to consult your doctor or a registered dietician before starting any supplements. That way, you can make sure the dose is accurate for you, and you are not taking too little or too much. It also helps to ensure that you’re taking the right vitamins based on your body’s needs. Remember that no matter how good the quality of the supplement may be, too much of everything is always harmful. Be within the right limits, and stay safe. Let your intake of supplements work to make your health better, and not the opposite.