Supplement Saviour: When is Diet Not Enough?

You know that you need to include all the essential vitamins and minerals in your diet, but what about those nutrients that need a little wellness boost? Most of the research suggesting vitamins and minerals prevent cancer and heart disease has been done in dietary sources of nutrients, rather than supplements, so is there ever any point in taking your vitamins and minerals in pill form? The odds are that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fortified food will give you everything you need to enhance your wellbeing, while supplements are more of a just-in-case form of health insurance. Let’s take a closer look at the beneficial nutrients, and if they’re best attained through diet, or whether they could use a helping hand.


1. Beta-carotene: Your body converts this antioxidant into vitamin A and uses it for healthy vision, good skin and a functioning immune system. You can get plenty from carrots, sweet potatoes, and green peppers, among other foods, but what about supplements? According to a 2004 study, taking your beta-carotene in pill form may actually raise your risk of lung cancer if you’re a smoker, so it’s best to get all the antioxidant you need from your diet.


2. Calcium: As you probably know from every yogurt advert ever, you need calcium to maintain healthy bones and stave off osteoporosis. However, if you’re dairy intolerant, or you’re getting sick of kale and canned sardines, supplements aren’t a bad idea as long as you don’t take more than 500 milligrams at a time, and pair them with vitamin D to improve your body’s calcium absorption. However, you shouldn’t pop the pill version of calcium if you’re a female over the age of 70, or if you’re prone to kidney stones. In 2010, a report showed a link between calcium supplements and heart-attack risk in older postmenopausal women.


3. Folic acid: Although the jury’s still out as to whether folate combats cancer, heart disease, or mental illness, this B vitamin – found in fortified breakfast cereal, dark green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruit juice, bread, and pasta – is beneficial in preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies. This is why it’s absolutely vital to get 400mg of folic acid every day, or 600mg if you’re pregnant or lactating. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises that this amount should come from food, supplements, or both.


4. Iron: As the foods highest in iron are liver and other organ meats, you might find yourself wanting to skip your iron intake altogether. However, as women are particularly prone to anaemia – thanks to that special time of month – this mineral is absolutely critical to give your red blood cells the boost they need to prevent this fatigue-inducing condition. Luckily, there are delicious dietary sources of iron, including lean meats, seafood, nuts, and green, leafy vegetables. Still, Jessica Anderson, a registered dietician with the Coastal Bend Health Education Centre, at the Texas A&M Health Science Centre, says you might need a supplement if you are anaemic, have heavy periods or if your doctor has prescribed one before surgery.


5. Potassium: If you have high blood pressure, too much sodium or an irregular heart rhythm, potassium can sort you out. While the mineral is found in bananas, raisins, leafy greens, oranges, and milk, you might want to consider a supplement if you’re of African origin, as you’re at a higher risk for hypertension for hypertension and heart disease. People taking potassium-depleting diuretics for a heart condition might also benefit from supplements, but remember that too much potassium can be harmful to older people and people with kidney disease.

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