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Do supplements create really expensive urine?

The topic of supplements is highly debated in the nutritional world, with lots of conflicting advice about whether taking supplements is really worth it. Scientists all over the world have said that in fact, supplements just create ‘really expensive urine’, arguing that a balanced diet means that it is unnecessary to need to take vitamin and mineral supplements. Whilst others say that in reality it is incredibly difficult to get all vitamins and minerals on your plate and therefore there is a place for some vitamin and mineral supplements.

So, with all this opposing advice, are there any supplements worth taking? 

 

The Association of British Dieticians advices that vitamins and minerals first and foremost should come from a balanced diet. Whilst they do say that people with various health conditions may need to take supplements, they advise that a varied diet should provide enough. A balanced diet includes consuming:

  • 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • 2-3 servings of calcium a day, whether that’s milk, cheese, yogurt or plant-based products fortified with calcium.
  • Starchy foods, like bread, potatoes, rice and pasta (wholegrain is best)
  • Protein in the form of eggs, meat, fish, beans or pulses
  • Limiting processed foods and foods high in sugar

The ‘Eatwell plate’ or ‘balanced plate’ coined by the NHS aims to provide us with a wholly balanced diet, providing us with all the vitamins and minerals we need. It is important to note also that a vitamin or mineral supplementation isn’t the ‘fix it’ approach and should not be used in lieu of actual fruit and vegetables, which provide many more health benefits in their whole form. Of course, the reality is we all have different diets, lifestyles, health conditions and overall wellbeing – so are there some cases where supplements are useful?

 

Vitamin D is the one supplement that scientists almost unequivocally agree is essential as a supplement. Vitamin D is obtained via sun exposure, and therefore cannot be consumed via the diet like other vitamins. During the winter months in the UK, we can be exposed to a very low level of vitamin D, which can be damaging to our health.

The current NHS guidelines advise that during the autumn and winter months, we should all be taking a supplement of 10ug. If you have darker skin, are exposed to little sunlight and are over 65 years old, a vitamin D supplement is recommended all uear round. You can read our full vitamin D profile and why it’s important here.

 

Taking a multi-vitamin ‘just in case’ does not scientifically mean you are healthier, according to a large study which looked at 27 vitamin trials. It concluded of the 400,000 people that took part in the trial, the vitamin-pill consumers did not live longer or have less cases of chronic heart disease and cancer. Moreover, as mentioned above, taking a multi-vitamin does not compensate for a lack of whole fruit and vegetables, and therefore if you can eat a whole and balanced diet then there should be no need for a multi-vitamin.

Studies conclude that from a science perspective, there is very little evidence to show that supplementing with vitamins and minerals has been linked to ongoing meaningful health benefits. However, if you have a health condition, a diet deficiency (eg veganism or coeliac) or are at risk of not getting all the vitamins and minerals you need despite a balanced diet, a supplement could be helpful.

Let’s take a look at what cases you may need to consider a supplement.

 

An iron supplement may be helpful for women with heavy periods and vegans, who both may be losing more iron through menstruation or their diet to maintain the level needed for the body.

A recent study showed that 27% of women have low iron and therefore a supplement may be useful in this instance. Lack of iron can cause anaemia, which results in extreme fatigue.

Good sources of iron in the diet are oily fish, liver, meat, nuts, whole grains, beans and dried apricots.

 

Vitamin B12 is predominately found in red meat, fish and eggs and therefore if you are following a vegan diet, a B12 supplement may be necessary.  You can read our full rundown of B vitamins here.

 

Again, if you following a vegan diet this may be necessary, as very plant-based foods contain zinc. Although the best plant-based sources are nuts, seeds and legumes, it is unlikely you’ll be able to regularly get the recommended amount of zinc.

 

Folic acid is specifically fundamental for pregnant women, or women who are trying to conceive. This is because folic acid plays a vital role in preventing neural birth defects like spina bifida, which is when the baby’s spine has not fully developed in the womb. The NHS advises that all women who are planning on getting pregnant or who are pregnant should take 400ug of folic acid.

 

So, is it worthwhile taking supplements and does it create expensive urine?

The evidence suggests that for most people a balanced diet will provide enough vitamins and minerals needed and therefore supplementation has little more to offer. However, if you follow a specific diet then a few of the supplements above could be beneficial and if you have another health condition which prevents you from absorbing nutrients, then consulting a dietician or nutritionist about supplements is essential. When purchasing any supplements ensure you are buying from reputable company or brand, and as always if you have any concerns regarding your specific health needs, make sure you consult a doctor, dietician or nutritionist.

 

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