Supplements are hugely popular in the UK. A report from the Food Standards Agency* (FSA) reveals that nearly one third of us takes some vitamins, mineral or dietary supplements on most days for general health and wellbeing. But supplements can be confusing. There is a wealth of products on the market from Vitamin A and Zinc to Zeaxanthin. Read on to learn your A-Z of vitamins, minerals, supplements and fish oils.
What are supplements and how do I know they are safe?
So just what is a supplement? Helpfully the Americans have come up with a good definition. US legislation states that for a product to be a dietary supplement it must contain a 'dietary ingredient' (a vitamin, mineral, herb or amino acid), it must be taken by mouth, it should not be intended to be consumed as a meal or meal replacement and the manufacturer must represent the product as a dietary supplement. In Europe there is EU legislation that dictates that dietary supplements can only be made with vitamins and minerals from an approved ingredient list. Safe upper limits for many vitamins and minerals have been set by the Food Standards Agency. Dietary supplements in the UK also carry the percentage of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) contained in the product on the label. Herbal medicines are regulated slightly differently. In the UK they must either have a Traditional Herbal Registration (which is labelled with a THR number) or else hold a product licence or marketing authorisation (identified by a nine-digit product licence -PL- number on the packaging). Avoid anything that is unlicensed.
I eat a healthy diet do I still need supplements?
Supplements are - as their name implies - designed to complement rather than replace healthy eating. If you consume a balanced diet covering all food groups then you may get everything you need. But busy lifestyles mean many of us rely on convenience foods. Moreover, even 'healthy' choices are not always as nutrient-rich as we would hope. In a landmark study from the University of Texas* researchers examined the impact of soil depletion on garden crops. The experts compared the nutritional values for 43 different fruits and vegetables comparing 1950 to 1999. The results revealed a shocking decline in protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C found in each food item. For vitamin B2 (riboflavin) the decline was as high as 39%. The authors predicted a similar drop in magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamins E and antioxidants (none of which were reported in 1950). You can draw your own conclusions from this. It's worth noting that fruits and vegetables are still essential for healthy living it's just that you may have a greater need for supplementation than in your grandma's day.