To supplement, or not to supplement?
Understandably, most of us are more concerned about our wellbeing than ever before. The Covid-19 pandemic has thrust healthcare centre stage, driving home the importance of good nutrition and exercise. It’s no surprise then that sales of supplements rose by a whopping 9% in the UK in 2020, reaching the giddy heights of £494 million. Supplements are big business. But with some online-retailers charging up to £149 for a month’s supply, it’s worth doing your research before you part with your precious pounds. Here’s our round-up of what to consider when shopping for supplements.
A balanced diet is best
Vitamin A, C, and E, as well as zinc, iron, selenium and copper are all essential for immune health. But you can get enough of these through a balanced diet. Conversely, eating an unhealthy, processed diet full of saturated fats and refined sugar is not going to make you feel good. Even with a side serving of supplements.
Choose a wide variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and wholegrains to provide your body with most of the vitamins and minerals it needs. Supplements alone cannot replace this — after all, they’re meant to supplement, not substitute, healthy food. In addition, fruits and vegetables contain vital antioxidant and phytochemicals that can reduce inflammation and help prevent heart disease and certain cancers. A balanced diet really is the best medicine.
Spotlight on vitamin D
Vitamin D has garnered a lot of interest in recent months, with some research linking a deficiency of the vitamin with an increased susceptibility to Covid-19 infection. The UK government has been swift to respond to the emerging science, encouraging everyone to take vitamin D and providing those who are clinically extremely vulnerable with free supplements through the winter.
Vitamin D, therefore, is one of the supplements you should definitely be taking. It’s essential for healthy bones, teeth and muscles as well as supporting our immune system. We make most of our vitamin D in our skin from sunshine, but in the UK we simply can’t do this between September and May. And because it’s not present in lots of foods, it’s hard to get it from diet alone. Aim for 400–800 IU, or 10–20 micrograms a day.
Folic acid and vitamin B12
In addition to vitamin D, folic acid and vitamin B12 are two other supplements that are necessary to support specific health needs.
Folic acid – the man-made version of folate, also known as vitamin B9 – is important for women who are planning to get pregnant or are in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It can help prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, developing in unborn babies during early pregnancy. You should aim for 400 micrograms a day if you’re pregnant or trying to be, but it’s not essential otherwise.
Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy nerve tissue, brain function and the production of red blood cells. It’s found in animal products such as meat, fish and dairy, as well as fortified breakfast cereals. However, vegetarians and vegans, as well as people with inflammatory bowel diseases and older people can find it hard to get enough from food or might have trouble absorbing B12.
Don’t be seduced by beautiful branding
We all love a fancy package design, but they often come at a price. If you’re on a budget, there’s simply no need to spend a fortune on expensive supplements. The key is to read the label carefully – check the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) to see how much each supplement dose contains as a percentage of your daily requirement. If it’s the same for a cheaper version compared to a pricey one, why pay more? There’s no real benefit other than to line the pockets of the manufacturers.
More than just a pill
If you or your family find it hard to swallow a pill, there are other options available including effervescent tablets, capsules, chewable tablets, jellies, gummies and sprays. For vitamin D, a trial found that sprays are just as effective as tablets in raising blood concentration levels.
Chewables and gummies might be a better option for those who struggle to swallow pills, but they often contain sugar, so only use as a last resort. Effervescent supplements, which fizz and dissolve in a glass of water, contain sodium – something that we should be mindful of consuming, especially if you have high blood pressure.
Scrutinise the label
Steer clear of nasty surprises in your supplements by considering the following:
- Read the small print, which may include details about wheat, gluten, dairy, peanuts, shellfish or fish allergens
- Ensure it’s free from bulking agents (magnesium stearate, starches and other unnecessary ingredients)
- Avoid added sweeteners, artificial additives and genetically modified organisms (GMO).
- Avoid buying any supplements that sit on the store window or are exposed to bright light and heat (and store them in a cool, dark place at home)
If you’re unsure, speak to your doctor
Always talk to your doctor or seek medical advice if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, taking any other medications or have a medical condition. Some supplements can interact with medicines and do more harm than good.
A balanced diet, full of wholefoods, fruits and vegetables will provide you with most of the vitamins and minerals you need. If you’d like to focus on a specific area of nutrition, speak to The Pure Package customer service managers and discover a range of tailored, nutritionally optimal meals that will nourish your body and support your immune system.