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Should vitamin supplements form part of our healthy eating routine?

Faced with so much confusing information on how to become fitter and healthier it’s a wonder that anyone knows where to start

Dr Arup Paul, AXA PPP’s deputy chief medical officer, attempts to decipher the piles of wellbeing news and information available and give us a clearer picture of where and how we should start and what role vitamin supplements can play in our healthy eating regime.

“If you are on a mission to become healthier this year you don’t have to wait until the start of the month or change of season to take better care of yourself,” says Dr Paul. “Anytime is a good time and that time could be now.”

Taking better care of our health and wellbeing doesn’t always have to start with our diet. Being physically active, taking time out, sleeping well, all play a part in the way we try to balance our day-to-day lives. For some of us, vitamin supplements can play their part too.

Dr Paul’s approach to vitamin supplements

“There is ever changing advice as to what and how much is good for us regarding taking vitamin or dietary supplements. No one person is the same so it is hard to give a definitive yes or no when someone asks if they should be supplementing their diet with them. Many factors can come into play – some of which are explored below. ”

Vitamins

There is a booming vitamin and supplement market in the UK. Mintel reports, that in the 12 months ending June 2016, 65% of adults had taken some form of vitamin or supplement (either occasionally or on a daily basis).

Life can be very busy and so it is understandable that at times if we have skipped a meal or eaten on the go then we may feel we need a supplement to give our health a boost.

Our bodies need nutrients to be healthy

Vitamin pills, however, are not a shortcut to better health. A supplement should only be considered as an ‘extra’ – a support to our healthy lifestyle not as a replacement for eating healthily. Our bodies need to be nutrient rich to prevent the onset of chronic diseases such as cancers, heart disease or type 2 diabetes and this comes from fuelling our bodies with the right foods.

So…reducing the amount of trans fat, saturated fat, salt, refined sugar and sensible portion sizes will not only leave us feeling good about ourselves but will also help to decrease our chances of developing long term health issues.

A healthy person should be able to get all the nutrients needed from eating a balanced diet which contains lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains; along with some dairy, meat, fish or protein plant foods such as tofu and healthy fats from oily fish, nuts, seeds and oils.

Click here to learn more about eating healthily – Do you know your fats?

However, some of us, at certain times of our lives may be deficient in certain nutrients and so could benefit from supplements:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers – Public Health England advises should take folic acid and a vitamin D supplement until the 12th week of pregnancy
  • Children aged 6 months to 5 years should take a Vitamin A,C and D supplement
  • Those at risk of vitamin D deficiency – people with darker skin or those not getting enough sun exposure (such as older people or those who may be housebound). Public Health England recommends taking vitamin D throughout the winter months.
  • For those excluding animal products from their diet as they may lack iron, B12, Omega 3 fatty acids

We mustn’t forget to exercise

Alongside eating well we should all be staying physically active. Moving our bodies can boost our energy and immune systems, improve blood flow to the brain, and improve our sleep. Increasing our exercise can negate our need for a vitamin supplement and is better for us in so many other ways too.

Being physically active increases the size of our brain associated with memory and learning, is good for our mental wellbeing and our cells even start to renew which can help to slow down the ageing process. The benefits to exercise are almost immeasurable!

The government recommendation is a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week which can be broken down into 30 minutes, 5 days a week or even shorter bursts. Taking the dog for a walk, taking the stairs or gardening all count!

Click here for some inspiration on how to exercise indoors

It’s important to research supplements carefully

Mintel’s research has found that multi-vitamins are the most popular with us Brits, although single vitamin supplements have gained recent popularity as they are seen to target specific health issues. It is thought that multi-vitamins are most commonly bought as they are relatively low cost, considered low risk and perceived to fill that nutritional gap in our diets.

The jury is out on whether vitamin supplements should form part of our healthy eating routine. Some experts agree that multi-vitamins could help aid as part of a healthy lifestyle, while others disagree and claim that the way the chemicals in fruit and vegetables work together cannot be replicated in a supplement. They argue that half an apple, despite only containing 5.7 milligrams of vitamin C has the antioxidant activity of 1,500 milligrams.

There is obviously more research to be done and we are all individuals with different needs. But if you are considering taking a supplement as a boost to your system it is worth finding out what you may be deficient in first. For example; you may assume you need an iron supplement as you are continually tired, but without being tested to find out if you are iron deficient you may be making the wrong choice. Your tiredness could be due to an underlying condition and taking extra iron into your body could lead to health complications.

It has also been shown that certain vitamins, taken in high doses, are potentially harmful – in particular A and E vitamins. Certain supplements can interfere with some prescribed medicines too so do check with your GP first if you are planning to supplement your diet this way.

However, if after checking with your GP, you find a vitamin supplement is appropriate for you then try visiting AXA Active Plus, where you can find a broad range of health and wellbeing products to choose.

Sources and further information

Mintel  Vitamins and supplements market in good health

NHS supplements: who needs them?

BDA Food Fact sheet

HSIS (the Health and Food Supplements Information Service)

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Lionel
6th Feb 2019
1
Thanks for voting!
My wife and I have practiced vitamin therapy for about 15 years basing our understanding on the work of American nutritionist Adelle Davis.

With a careful and considered approach to the matter, accounting for our changing way of life and needs as we get older, it has been a pleasant success.

My wife has MS and routinely varies her supplement intake according to her current needs. Overall supplements make a beneficial difference to her which is just as well. With our surgery alarmingly overstretched to provide any medical care helping oneself is the way forward.

I could only recommend this regime to people who are prepared to give up the time to study the matter very carefully and not dip in and out then say it doesn't work.

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