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The truth about diet supplements
Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan |
August 11, 2005
Are you a strict vegetarian?
Are you pregnant or lactating?
Does your busy lifestyle keep you from eating healthy?
Are you on a diet that provides less than 1,200 calories a day?
If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, you might need vitamin and mineral supplements.
Meanwhile, here's another question. If you are eating a well-rounded diet that includes whole, fresh foods, do you need supplements?
Get your daily dose of minerals and vitamins
An average vegetarian diet may not supply the recommended daily allowance of certain vitamins and minerals.
A supplement can help you fill the gaps and protect you against certain diseases and health conditions.
If you think you are not getting all your nutrients and are looking for extra supplements to remain healthy, start with a simple supplement programme that includes:
- Multi-vitamin, multi-mineral
- B complex vitamins
- Calcium (1,000 mg), zinc (15 mg), iron (18 mg) and Magnesium (400 mg)
- Omega 3 supplements (1 gm)/ Fish liver oil
- Vitamin E (30 IU)
Note: The figures in parentheses indicate the recommended daily intake for the nutrient per day for normal adults; so ensure your supplement contains at least the recommended amount.
Important: Do check with your doctor before you start taking any supplements.
Choosing the right supplements
Here are some tips to help you get the best out of supplements:
i. Read the label carefully
Labels usually provide detailed information about the contents, their safe use, storage information and expiry dates. Even if you are not a doctor, you will be able to tell a lot by reading the label.
ii. Avoid mega doses
A pill that contains 100 percent of the daily requirements of all constituents is far better than one that contains 500 percent of the requirement of one vitamin and only 25 percent of the requirement of another vitamin.
iii. Pay attention to storage instructions and expiry dates
If you want your supplements to provide the desired effect, it is imperative you follow the storage instructions (For example, 'Store in a cool dry place') and discard them after their expiry dates.
iv. Natural or synthetic?
Usually, synthetic and natural supplements have the same effect. In some cases, however, the natural/ organic form might be better absorbed and hence be more effective. Do your research to find out if paying for the natural form is worth it.
For example synthetic Vitamin E (dl-alphatocopherol) is not as efficiently used by the body as the supplement derived from its natural form (d-alphatocopherol).
v. Check with your doctor
Make it a point to ask your doctor before you start taking supplements of any kind. Some supplements might interact with other drugs you are taking. In most cases, it is a good idea to not exceed 150 percent of the daily requirement.
vi. More is not always better
Pay attention to daily requirements and dosages. Taking five tablets a day instead of the recommended two will not necessarily mean better health; it might even lead to dangerous side effects.
For example, supplements of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, zinc, chromium, selenium and other common minerals can be toxic at levels not much higher than the recommended allowances.
vii. Cost is not always proportional to quality
Some supplements might be overpriced; do remember, cost is not necessarily an indication of their efficacy. Check with your doctor before you choose the more expensive supplement over the cheaper one.
The bottom line
~ Do not self-diagnose any disease or deficiency.
~ See your doctor to determine what supplements work best for you.
~ Supplements can help you meet your daily requirements and keep you healthy, but going overboard will only affect your health negatively.
~ Supplements cannot replace eating a variety of foods that constitute a healthy and complete diet.
Next: Herbal supplements, to buy or not to buy
Dr Roopa Nishi Viswanathan has an MBBS from KEM Hospital, Mumbai, with a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin.