Food supplements are products in pills, powders, drops, capsules, or drinks and are intended to supplement the daily diet. They contain vitamins, minerals, or bioactive substances either separately, as in a vitamin C pill, or combination, as in a multivitamin pill.
These synthetic or isolated vitamins, minerals, or bioactive substances have the same effect as the vitamins and minerals that are naturally present in food and drink.
However, the body absorbs the nutrients in pills more quickly than in food.
Most people do not need food supplements because they already get enough nutrients by eating a varied diet.
Special groups need extra nutrients, such as pregnant women (folic acid and vitamin D), young children (vitamin D), and the elderly (vitamin D), clearly benefit from the use of food supplements.
Food supplements consist only of vitamins, minerals, or bioactive substances, such as a vitamin C pill or as a combination of several vitamins and minerals, as in a multivitamin pill.
They can be bought in shops in sizes and brands intended to supplement the daily diet.
They usually come in the form of:
They can be roughly divided into three categories:
- Supplements: containing only one vitamin or mineral.
- Multisupplements: with a combination of vitamins or minerals, such as a multivitamin tablet or vitamin B complex.
- Nutraceuticals: bioactive substances in a food supplement.
Supplements usually contain synthetic or industrially produced vitamins, minerals, or bioactive substances. These have the same effect as the vitamins and minerals found naturally in food and drink.
However, the body absorbs the nutrients in pills more quickly than the nutrients in food. For example, folic acid (vitamin B11) absorption from food is 30-50% lower than that of synthetic folic acid (folic acid).
Most people do not need food supplements because they already get enough vitamins and minerals from a healthy and varied diet.
Only special groups that need extra vitamins or minerals are advised to take supplements because they need more of those substances than they can get through the regular diet.
Vegans are advised to take extra vitamin B12.
There are also groups for whom supplementation with a multivitamin or mineral supplement may be desirable, but for whom there is no official advice:
- Older adults who eat little
- People who eat one-sidedly (this can occur among others in alcoholics)
- People on extreme weight loss diets
For these groups, it is imperative to improve their lifestyle and adjust their diet.
Older adults: especially in the elderly with gastrointestinal infections, the absorption of vitamin B12 from the diet can be insufficient. Because vitamin B12 from a supplement is well absorbed, extra vitamin B12 can be helpful for this group.
There is no good reason to take more vitamins than the recommended daily allowance (RDA). A surplus can even be harmful with the long-term use of some vitamins or minerals.
This is especially true for vitamins A, D, and B6 and for minerals/track elements such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, iodine, and selenium.
The label often states the percentage of the product’s vitamins and minerals contributing to the reference intake (RI). The RI is a kind of labeling ADH.
The safe dosage is often unknown for many other substances that may be present in supplements, such as bioactive substances.
It is always advisable to look at the label of the supplement. Check what substances it contains and whether the maximum amounts are not exceeded.
- Be careful with food supplements and herbal preparations sold on the internet. They may contain banned substances.
- Read the labels on food supplements and herbal preparations carefully. They show how much of a particular substance is contained.
- Food supplements and herbal preparations must contain advice on use and dosage. Follow this advice and never take more than the recommended amount.
- Store dietary supplements and herbal preparations out of the reach of children.
Supplements During Pregnancy
Besides the advice to take folic acid and vitamin D before and during pregnancy, it is essential to eat enough calcium-rich products (milk, yogurt, cheese), iodine-rich products (bread and dairy products), and fish.
If this fails structurally, it is advisable to take a supplement.
Too much vitamin A can cause damage to the unborn child. Therefore, pregnant women should not exceed 3,000 micrograms per day of vitamin A intake—this concerns vitamin A from animal products and supplements. Because the liver is much vitamin A, it is better not to eat during pregnancy.
The advice to pregnant women is not to take supplements with vitamin A (retinol, retinal, retinyl acetate, or retinyl palmitate).
Food supplements containing high doses of antioxidants may increase the risk of cancer.
This effect has been found for:
- More than 15 milligrams of beta-carotene per day and the risk of lung cancer
- More than 15 milligrams of beta-carotene in combination with vitamin A or vitamin E and the risk of gastrointestinal cancer
There is also evidence of undesirable effects on the risk of cancer and death for other supplements with high doses of antioxidants (but not for vitamin C).
Too high a concentration of antioxidants in the body can have unwanted, so-called pro-oxidant effects.
In other words, the reverse effect of the expected antioxidant effect.
For cardiovascular diseases, the use of supplements with antioxidants does not appear to have a positive or negative effect on the risk of illness.
When to Take Dietary Supplements?
Food supplements cannot replace a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. They do not compensate for a disturbed diet, so they can only keep the organism in balance.
Nowadays, food supplements can be found on the counter of every pharmacy. Is it essential to take extra vitamins and minerals to stay healthy? Or is a balanced and varied diet enough?
But What Does it Contain?
- Nutrients such as vitamins and minerals
- Plant extracts
- Other substances with nutritional or physiological effect
You can find them at the pharmacist, in the supermarket, at the diet shop, or here on our site.
So you don’t have to eat anything when you take dietary supplements?
Yes, because you always use them to supplement your daily diet.
If you take them, you hope to have more energy and become ill less quickly.
Always Talk to a Doctor or Dietician
So you can’t do without food supplements? If you eat a healthy, balanced, and varied diet every day, you will get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
That is why we have the food triangle. If you follow it, you will always be well off.
However, in these cases, it is helpful to take dietary supplements:
- Folic acid for women planning pregnancy
- Vitamin D for children up to six years of age or the elderly
- Vitamin B12 for vegans
Can you take dietary supplements in these cases? No, first, talk to a doctor or dietician about your situation. Pregnant women who take too much vitamin A have a higher risk of malformations in their unborn children.
Losing Weight with Dietary Supplements
Do you want to lose weight by taking dietary supplements? Many products promise quick results but are expensive, and it is far from certain whether they work.
They look like medicines, but they are not.
Moreover, they do not change your eating habits and there is no scientific evidence that they work.
Do you Want to Lose Weight?
Start with these three tips:
- Eat healthier
- Eat less
- Get enough exercise
And never take dietary supplements to lose weight without consulting a doctor or dietician.
What does the Law Say?
In many countries, dietary supplements must comply with food legislation. Therefore, it is forbidden to state on the packaging of food supplements that they work against diseases and ailments.
However, it is allowed to say that food supplements promote good health.
So read carefully what is written on the packaging of food supplements and do not simply believe everything the manufacturer claims or insinuates.
Did Food Use to be Healthier? No proof of that!
Companies that market food supplements claim fewer vitamins and minerals in our food today than in the past. That is why you need their products.
But has the nutritional value declined? At the moment, there is no scientific evidence for this. It is also not easy to study this properly since the food industries are expanding very fast.
It affects the nutritional value of what we eat:
- Where do the crops come from?
- How are they grown?
- How are they stored?
Did you know that modern laboratory analyses are often much more elaborate than those of the past? What should you compare it to? So it is not easy to find out whether our food is less nutritious than it used to be.
But we do eat differently from our parents and grandparents. And that has both positive and negative consequences.
More choice and variation mean more nutrients.
Better storage techniques are suitable for preservation.
More ready-made products that are poorer in nutrients.
Insufficient intake of vitamins because we eat too few fruit and vegetables.
Go for Seasonal Produce
Always choose seasonal fruit and vegetables and make sure they are correctly processed and preserved. This way, you will get enough nutrients, and you do not need to take food supplements.
Do you want to use supplements anyway?
Ask for advice from a doctor or dietician first.