People are often advised to get their nutrients from food rather than supplements.
Indeed, the NHS state: “Most people don’t need to take vitamin supplements and are able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.”
However, there is a growing belief that with busy lifestyles it can be difficult to do this – and supplements are increasingly being used to fill the gap.
It is little wonder that last year sales of vitamin and mineral supplements overtook painkillers.
But not having the time to cram in enough fruit and vegetables is not the only reason people are preferring to swallow their nutrients in a tablet, gels powder or liquids.
According to a nutritional expert, supplements are not only often a more efficient way for us to absorb vitamins and minerals, but amounts can also be tailored to the person.
“It is extremely important to consume nutrient dense foods in the diet as this is required for general health, but it may not be efficient or sufficient in itself,” said Chris Newbold, BioCare nutritionist (www.biocare.co.uk).
“We are all biologically different, meaning that some of us require higher, more therapeutic levels of certain nutrients which are achieved through supplementation.
“Also certain forms of nutrients have been shown in research to be better absorbed or more ‘bioavailable’; in other words, more readily taken up and used in the body.
“For example calcium citrate is a much better form than the traditional used calcium carbonate, and the animal form of vitamin D – cholecalciferol – appears to be more effective than the plant form – ergocalciferol.
A new study also supports that diet alone is likely to leave us lacking in nutrients.
Research published in the journal Nutrients found that taking multivitamin and mineral supplements was better at increasing nutrient intake and reducing nutrient deficiencies than just eating food, particularly for vitamin A and iron which are generally under-consumed in the UK.
“This study is really important in setting the record straight on the value of multivitamins and minerals,” said Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health and Food Supplements Information Service.
“Unfortunately, all too often it is said that you can get all the nutrition you need from a healthy, balanced diet.
“But this ignores how most people actually eat. A lot of people don’t consume the full-spectrum of micronutrients needed to support optimum health.”
Newbold explained that as well as the fact that on average we are not consuming enough fruit and vegetables, nutrient deficiencies may not be our fault.
“Recent research has shown that modern farming methods in the UK and Europe are actually diminishing the nutrient content in the foods produced, meaning that topping up our nutrient intake with supplements is more relevant than ever,” he said.
“Additionally, perhaps ironically, food may not be the optimum source of nutrients since it contains nutrients in natural, yet complex form and our digestive process has to work hard and in complex ways to extract nutrients.
“An example of this is that many naturally iron-rich foods like green vegetables are difficult to extract the iron from.”
Sometimes food contain natural chemicals which can affect digestion and absorption of different foods.
“Lectins for example, found in beans, pulses, grains, cereals, fruits and vegetables can be quite inflammatory for some people, affecting our gut lining, our ability to digest food effectively and to absorb the vital nutrients,” Newbold explained.
“Phytates and phytic acid are other examples of natural chemicals found in seeds of grains. They have the ability to bind to certain minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium, which affects the absorption of these vital nutrients and the body’s systems they support.”
He recommended vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, and iodine as supplements people may want to think about taking.
However, he stressed that this does not mean we should stop focusing on eating a healthy, balanced diet.
“We should always remember though that there are multiple benefits from eating a good whole food diet, not just the amount of vitamins and minerals we’re able to extract,” he said.