What Supplements Should you Take?

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In order for our body to function optimally, we need to meet our energy and macronutrient requirements (i.e. calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats and fibre), as well as our vitamin and mineral requirements too. Luckily, we can achieve the majority of our micronutrient requirements through eating a balanced and varied diet, which includes regularly achieving the recommended five portions of fruits and vegetables a day (if not more!). However, there are some nutrients that we may need to consider supplementing, especially if you are of a particular age or stage within the lifespan, such as pregnancy.

This guide provides some simple advice for any supplements you may wish to include, in addition to a healthy balanced diet.


“Do I need to take a multivitamin?”

Multivitamins are not essential, however if there are a number of foods you don’t eat, or you’re not yet confident in ensuring you’re achieving a balanced diet in order to obtain all the essential nutrients you need, supplementing with a multivitamin can act as a ‘safety blanket’. If you are pregnant, avoid any multivitamins with the retinol form of Vitamin A (you may wish to opt for a pregnancy multivitamin). However, for the general population, a simple (and cheap!) A-Z supplement is sufficient, in addition to a healthy balanced diet.


Vitamin D

From the start of life, breastfed babies need a Vitamin D supplement (as well as breastfeeding and pregnant mothers). From six months, babies need Vitamins A, C & D which should continue until 5 years of age (unless they’re having >500ml formula a day).⁣

For the general population, most of the Vitamin D we get is from the sun, however in the winter months (October-April) in the U.K, the UV light is not strong enough to synthesise sufficient amounts within the skin, so it’s advised to take a daily 10mcg supplement.⁣

⁣Older people, those with dark skin or cover up, or are spending a lot of time indoors, are at more risk of deficiency so it is advised to supplement all year round.


Folic Acid

If you’re a woman of child-bearing age or you’re trying for a baby, it’s recommended to supplement with folic acid 3-6 months before trying as well as consuming plenty of folate rich foods such as fortified cereals and leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, as well as some pulses such as chickpeas and kidney beans. You will need 400mcg for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or if you have diabetes or a BMI of 30+, you will need 5mg; please discuss this with your doctor.


Vegan Diets

If you follow a vegan or plant-based diet, as well as ensuring you’re consuming plenty of fortified foods (for example, dairy alternatives with added vitamins B12 and D, as well as calcium and iodine), it is advised to consider taking a 10mcg Vitamin B12 supplement. This is a nutrient which we cannot find naturally through plant-based foods, however we can obtain this through animal proteins such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy. In addition, if you’re not including the recommended 2 portions of fish a week (1 of which should be oily) within the diet, you may also wish to consider an algae-based omega-3 supplement in addition to consuming plant-based sources of omega-3, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and rapeseed oil.


Mythbusting: Vitamin C!

When it comes to our diet, a food first approach is always recommended, as we do know that certain foods work in combination with each other - for example, pairing a source of Vitamin C such as peppers, with a source of non-haem iron (from plant-based sources such as kidney beans) can enhance the amount of iron our body absorbs. So keep it varied, aim for a rainbow of colours and don’t forget that fresh, frozen and tinned all count when it comes to your 5-a-day!

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list & there are some exceptions for specific medical conditions which should always be discussed with your GP!⁣

By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Specialist Dietitian at Ramsay Health Care

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