Hands up if you’ve ever taken a dietary supplement? That could be a bog-standard vitamin C tablet, or a less well known, superfood supplement such as spirulina (a type of algae high in complete protein and vitamins).
I’m willing to bet you have, most of us have. It might be because we don’t eat a very balanced diet, because we like to get involved with every new superfood going, or because we’re somewhere in between.
But food supplements, are just that – supplements. They should supplement a diet that is otherwise healthy and balanced, alongside an active lifestyle. Pills, powders, and beverages should be taken alongside all the other virtuous stuff, such as a diet high in fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, good fats and lean protein, and taking the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
Food supplements play a role in contributing to health and wellness. But taking a supplement could mean that you pick up bad habits because you feel protected under the safety umbrella of that daily tablet.
So, how much should we supplement? That depends entirely on our lifestyle. If we eat nothing but a beige diet full of white bread, deep fried chicken nuggets, fries and waffles, then (aside from taking a serious look at our diet) we should probably take a daily supplement such as a multivitamin and mineral, to cover all bases.
If we work out a lot, then supplementing our diet with a protein shake each day is probably going to be beneficial. Plus, protein shakes often contain fruits and other nutritious goodies.
These are just two examples. If you have an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle, adding in, for example, a curcumin supplement as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant is perfectly fine.
What a supplement shouldn’t be, is a substitute for a bad diet. If we eat takeout pizza every day and expect a daily concoction of food supplements to counter the effects, then we’ve gone seriously wrong, somewhere.
When it’s Essential to Supplement
However, there are some scenarios when it’s important to supplement.
Anyone following a vegan lifestyle or plant-based diet should take a daily B12 supplement. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products such as meat and dairy. This is because it’s produced by bacteria in the stomachs of livestock. A B12 deficiency could possibly lead to a type of anemia which results in extreme tiredness, lethargy, poor memory and impaired judgment.
Pregnant women are advised to take a folic acid supplement during the first trimester to help prevent neural tube defects in their unborn child.
Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when UV light from the sun hits the skin. Vitamin D supplements are recommended to those who don’t get outside very often due to immobility or being institutionalized and to those who have dark skin or cover up most of their skin whilst outdoors. They’re also a good idea for anyone in states where the Autumn and Winter months mean little sun or daylight.