The good vitamin guide: What should you take and when for a well-balanced diet? – Mirror Online

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Many medical experts believe we are simply wasting money on health supplements.

The general consensus is we can get all the vitamins and minerals we need from a well-balanced diet.

And there’s no discernible evidence taking those pills and potions will reduce your risk of conditions like heart disease or help you live longer.

“The evidence for the actual health benefits is rather limited,” says Leeds GP Dr Gary Bartlett, echoing the thoughts of so many of his colleagues.

“Eating fruit, vegetables, carbohydrates and whole grains with the correct amount of protein will be way more beneficial in maintaining good health over taking a supplement.”

But statistics show that, in the real world, for many reasons,this is not always the case.

Handful of Vitamins

“Diet should always come first,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, GP, nutritionist and medical director of Healthspan.

“But the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) consistently show significant numbers of the population do not get all the vitamins and minerals they need from their food.”

This could be because of poor diet choices, such as relying on processed foods, or other factors – like avoiding certain food groups because you simply don’t like them or for ethical reasons.

Then there are those on a restrictive weight loss plan; older people whose nutrient absorption is less efficient and menstruating girls at risk of low iron levels.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our diet fails to give us all we need, suggests Rob Hobson, nutritionist and author.

“Vegans, for instance, are likely to benefit from taking a vitamin B12 supplement as this nutrient isn’t found in many plant foods,” he says.

“And, if you’re not getting your five- a-day or eating oily fish, then a daily multivitamin and mineral should be considered.”

What should I be looking for in a supplement?

“Quality is key,” explains Dr Brewer. “Look for products made to a pharmaceutical standard known as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

“This tests products for purity and consistency of dose at every stage of manufacture and is usually mentioned as a quality point on manufacturers’ ‘About Us’ web page.

“You can also try searching on the internet for the name of  your chosen brand plus the term ‘GMP’.”

Vitamin D capsules tablets

And be choosy where you buy them. Vitamin and mineral supplements sold in high street pharmacies or from trusted online retailers offer quality and value for money, says Dr Brewer.

“You get what you pay for. Check labels to compare levels of ingredients between brands and that you are buying a quality product.”

Does the type you take matter?

Whether you take a tablet, capsule, a liquid, gummies or spray is really down to personal choice, says Dr Brewer. “Although, in general, a tablet will provide a wider range of vitamins and minerals than a gummy or spray.”

Are there any risks?

Dr Brewer says: “It is important to check with a pharmacist or doctor if you have a medical condition or if you are taking any prescribed or over-the-counter drugs.

Also check before taking any supplements if you are pregnant, or planning to be, or if breast-feeding.

“The risk of side-effects is very low as long as you do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended daily intake of any supplement.

Could I take too much?

“There is a wide safety margin between what most supplements deliver and what would be required  to cause side-effects or toxic reactions,” Dr Brewer explains.

“If taking a multivitamin, be careful about taking additional supplements that include fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as these can be stored in the body and accumulate to toxic levels when intakes are too high.”

And because all minerals can be toxic in excess, don’t exceed manufacturer’s recommended doses or mix and match supplements that contain minerals. Those most likely to cause problems in excess are iron, selenium, magnesium and zinc.

Tips for taking supplements

  •  Most vitamin and mineral supplements are best taken immedi- ately after food and with water to avoid nausea or indigestion (even a few bites of food or a glass of orange juice will do).

  • Don’t wash them down with coffee or tea, which can interfere with absorption of minerals such as iron and zinc.

  • Fat soluble substances (e.g. co-enzyme Q10, evening primrose oil, fish oils, vitamin E) are best taken with food containing some fat, such as milk. If taking a fish oil that produces fishy burps, try emulsifying the oil by shaking your dose with a little milk to increase absorption and reduce after-taste.

  • One-a-day supplements are best taken after your evening meal because repair processes and mineral movements in your body are greatest at night when growth hormone is secreted.

  • When taking two or more tablets/capsules of the same prepa- ration daily, spreading them over the day maximises absorption and evens out blood levels.

Herbal supplements

“Herbal products can vary in quality,” warns Dr Chris Etheridge, chair of the British Herbal Medicine Association.

“Recent research revealed 30-40% of milk thistle and echinacea herbal and food supplements were sub- standard. Some appeared not to contain the listed herb.

“However, Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) medicines were 100% accurate in containing the right herb in the correct amount. Always look for herbal medicines that display THR on their pack.” 

Check out THR herbs at

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