Are vitamin supplements good for your health?

By Ian Marber, May 25, 2012
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Ian Marber

Ian Marber

If I asked you to think about which foods are healthy, the chances are that you would probably include, say, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, plain yogurt, legumes, poultry, olive oil and wholegrains. You might be less sure precisely why these foods are considered healthy, but in general terms, they cover all the food groups and are rich in nutrients.

Of course the nutrients in food are of particular interest, but despite their importance, focusing on nutrients in isolation isn’t always useful, simply because I feel that there is an increasing belief that individual nutrients come in capsules, not food. If you are in any doubt, take a look at your local health store — they are likely to stock more supplements, capsules, powders, pills and oils than they are food.

While there is nothing wrong with supplements per se, I worry that we take too many without the correct advice and without understanding what to expect. Nutrients are not inert substances nor are they always benign, but as they are found in food, we tend to think of them as being always good. But here’s the irony — the people that take supplements tend to be health-aware, fit and active with a good diet and don’t need them (that’s not to say there is no benefit), while the people who really could do with extra nutrients because of a poor diet and lack of exercise just don’t bother.

So when it comes to supplements, what should we be taking? First off, please don’t feel pressured into taking anything at all — the chances of you actually being deficient in a nutrient are very low. That said, you might still benefit from a little extra chosen from a small, targeted list.

My personal view is that the following are probably worthwhile: 500mg of omega 3 oils twice a day as it helps combat inflammation, enhances insulin sensitivity, offers a degree of protection against cardiovascular disease and helps hormonal balance; a probiotic in capsule form, as they have many roles, not least aiding digestion but also increasing mineral and vitamin B absorption from food and acting as a buffer against unwanted bacteria in food; and lastly, a green drink — often made from algae or the like (who knew that pond scum could be nutritious?) and particularly rich in antioxidants and minerals, but it is in food form and so more easily digested.

Ian Marber is one of the UK’s most highly regarded nutrition experts and the author of 11 books. Follow him at Twitter @IanMarber. He is talking about food allegies at the LJCC on Sunday June 17. Book at www.ljcc.org.uk

Last updated: 10:15am, May 29 2012