Even if your diet is good, you could be missing out on vital nutrients. Leading nutritionist Dr Libby Weaver looks at when, and how, supplements can help.
We all know that a well-balanced diet, rich in vegetables and fruits, is a solid foundation for optimal nutrition. However, too few of us consistently eat such a healthy diet. This can lead to chronic deficiencies in one or more of the essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and can place our good health at risk.
There is often much confusion about whether nutrient supplementation is good, safe, necessary and important, or bad, dangerous and a huge waste of money. I believe nutrient supplementation can play an important role at the times in our lives when our diet isn’t able to meet our nutritional needs. Below I explain the
situations and stages where taking supplements could be advisable; if you think one or more of these applies to you, a health professional can help you find the right combination and dosage. Remember, supplements are not an excuse to eat badly. Nothing replaces high quality, nutrient-dense, real food.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Identify from the list below if you need
additional nutritional support. But first and
foremost, amp up the quality of your diet. Eat
real, fresh produce and limit processed goods
where you can. Aim to eat this way six days a
week, or for 17 meals out of 21 (based on three
main meals a day).
GOOD REASONS WHY YOU MAY NEED A SUPPLEMENT
YOU DRINK A LOT, AND OFTEN
Too much alcohol damages the liver and
pancreas, which are vital to digestion and
metabolism. Alcohol can also damage the
lining of the intestinal tract and adversely
a!ect the absorption of nutrients, leading to
sub-clinical malnutrition. Regular heavy
drinking increases the body’s need for the B
group vitamins, particularly thiamine (vitamin
B1), niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine (vitamin
B6), folic acid and vitamins B12, A and C, as
well as the minerals zinc, magnesium and
calcium. Alcohol a!ects availability, absorption
and metabolism of nutrients.
YOU’RE A CAFFEINE QUEEN
For many a busy woman, flat whites and lattes
are the lubricant that keep the wheels of her
day turning. But too much ca!eine can irritate
the lining of the digestive system, hindering
the production of digestive enzymes. Ca!eine
also blocks the absorption of calcium and other
minerals so if you have a milky co!ee, your
body does not get any calcium from the drink.
In fact ca!eine drives your body to leach
minerals, including calcium, from your bones.
A vegan diet omits all sources of animal foods,
including eggs and dairy. A vegetarian diet
omits all meats and fish but usually still
includes eggs and dairy products. The key
nutrients that may need to be supplemented in
a vegetarian diet include iron and zinc, while for vegans, B12 and calcium may also be
necessary. Seventy percent of the world’s
women are believed to be iron-deficient. Don’t
be one of them!
Chemical, physical and emotional stresses can
increase the body’s requirements for vitamins
B2, B5, B6 and C as well as magnesium.
Smoking is bad news on so many levels. Not
only does it it raid your vitamin stores and
irritate the digestive tract, it increases the
metabolic requirements for vitamin C (all else
being equal) by at least 30%. This is one reason
why smokers appear to age faster than nonsmokers
as vitamin C is an essential part of
collagen, which keeps skin taut and young.
Of course you do find vitamin C in food, such
as citrus fruits, capsicum and paw-paw. But
since it is destroyed by heat and light, the
longer these foods spend in storage between
picking and consumption, the less vitamin C
they contain. Vitamin C is also vital to the
YOU’RE ON THE PILL
Oral contraceptives can decrease absorption
of folic acid and increase the need for vitamin
B2 and B6, vitamin C and zinc. You may need
to supplement these nutrients for general
health if you are on the pill. If you come o! the
pill to try to conceive, make sure you
supplement with folic acid – preferably for a
few months before conception as folic acid is
vital to the formation of the spinal cord, a
process that begins before many women find
out they are pregnant. Folic acid works in
tandem with vitamin B12 so supplement these
two nutrients together.
YOU’RE A FITNESS JUNKIE
Although exercise is wonderful for the body in
many ways, it does create an internal
environment of stress that needs to be
counterbalanced by the diet. If you are very
active, you may require additional B-group
vitamins, vitamin C and iron in particular.
YOU’RE GETTING ON IN YEARS
Health studies on the elderly have revealed a
low intake of vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, calcium and zinc. Folic acid
deficiency is often found in conjunction with
vitamin C deficiency. Fibre intakes can also be
low, as can those of vitamins B2 and B6.
One result of zinc deficiency is that people
tend to become fussy eaters and don’t want
to eat very much. The deficiencies may be
related to a reduced secretion of digestive
enzymes, chronic illness and possibly
THE GOLDEN RULE
Eat well – and supplement wisely. While
nutrient supplementation can support our
health in the above cases, I cannot encourage
you enough to get as much nutrition as
possible from your food. Shop around the
edges of the supermarket or, better still, visit
your local farmers market. This way you’ll be
buying your food closer to the time it was
harvested, and supporting the growers too.
Dr Libby is not linked to any supplement
Do you take any supplements?