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What supp?

Expert advice on choosing the right vitamins, minerals and supplements for you

The vast range of vitamins, minerals and supplements available now can be quite overwhelming for those of us who are looking for some extra nutritional support. Supplements can be a great way to top up your intake of certain nutrients, but choosing the right ones can be tricky. Here, YHL speaks to two nutrition experts to get their advice on how to choose the right supplement for you.

Variety is the spice of life

“Eating a wide variety of foods is first and foremost the best way to make sure that you’re meeting your vitamin and mineral needs,” says Laura Bradley, a certified diet and nutrition advisor. “When looking to buy supplements, consider which vitamins and minerals you can get from your diet, and which need topping up. Vitamin D is difficult to come by during winter in the northern hemisphere and therefore supplementing this would be a good idea. Pregnant women and those trying to conceive should take a supplement containing folic acid. Vegans should include B12 and iodine supplements as it is difficult to meet the needs for this vitamin through a plant-based diet alone.”

“It can be a good idea to take a product that combines different nutrients to either avoid taking too many tablets or to improve the effectiveness of the product,” says Nicola Ragon Paxton, a BANT Registered Nutritionist, and founder of I Love Greens. “Some nutrients work well together and need to have the correct ratio maintained. For example, magnesium and calcium, and iron and vitamin C are important combinations. Zinc should also ideally be supplemented with copper to avoid a deficiency.”

Consult with an expert

“There is so much choice but not all products are equal and not all are what they seem,” says Nicola. “Ideally you should always consult with a qualified expert like a BANT Registered Nutritionist to ensure the supplements are needed and to confirm dosage. This will also prevent you from accidentally doubling up on certain nutrients which is common when people take multiple supplements.”

Check quantities

“If you are planning to go over the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), then always talk to a doctor or heath practitioner first,” says Laura. “Some vitamins, minerals and herbal extracts can be toxic if consumed in high quantities or over a prolonged time period so always make sure you are consuming supplements in healthy quantities. If you are taking other medications, prescribed or otherwise, talk to your doctor as some ingredients in supplements can have negative interactions with medicines. For example, vitamin E can increase the chance of bleeding in those taking blood-thinning medications. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also talk to their health practitioner before starting supplements as not all are suitable. For example, vitamin A in large quantities should be avoided as this can pose a risk to your baby.”

Look at the label

“When choosing your own supplements, always check the label to see the dosage,” says Nicola. “Many labels might claim to include a certain nutrient but the levels are so low that it’s hardly worth it. Looking for the reference nutrient intake (RNI) for a nutrient can help you make decisions. Many cheaper supplements will also contain vitamins and minerals in a form which the body finds hard to absorb or have certain side effects (like ferrous sulphate).”

“Binders, coatings, artificial colours and flavourings are all used by some manufacturers,” says Laura. “Avoid things with ‘propyl’ or ‘ethyl’ in the ingredients as these often relate to artificial additives and should be avoided. Binders are more likely to be found in tablets than capsules. If there is anything that you are allergic or intolerant to then check the supplement is free from them, such as lactose, and check they are vegan or vegetarian if you don’t consume animal products.”

Safety first and foremost

“Safety and quality are both big considerations when choosing a brand of supplement,” says Laura. “In the UK, there is no requirement for food supplements to be registered, as long as they comply with the law. There is also no maximum level of vitamins and minerals. It is therefore important to find good quality brands that you can trust. As well as looking at the ingredients in your supplements, make sure to buy from reputable sources and check that the supplement you are looking at has an expiry date.”

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