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Is pill-popping the answer?

It seems there is a never-ending onslaught of TV programmes these days about diet and exercise, telling us what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Add to this the massive volume of conflicting information about supplementation and you’re left none the wiser and without a clue where to start. Nutritional therapist Jackie Newson throws light on the vexed question of supplements.

It’s hard enough knowing what is considered a healthy diet without trying to get your head around the huge and varied range of supplementation that is available these days, not just in health food shops but on the shelves in our supermarkets too. Supplements can include anything from vitamin C to Devil’s Claw, with a myriad of companies selling different formulas and varying doses.

Approximately one third of the population in the UK take supplements annually in the hope of defying the ageing process or generally improving their health, so it’s a subject we ought to be better informed about, surely? Where on earth do we go to for reliable information anyway? Hopefully you should get honest, well-researched and up-to-date information from a health professional. As a qualified nutritional therapist it is my job to enlighten my patients on the benefits of following a healthy diet as well as advising them about supplementation should they need it.

Firstly, without a doubt it is really important that we eat a varied diet which includes complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, adequate protein, a little dairy food and plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. Supplements, as the word suggests, should be there to supplement a healthy diet, not as a substitute for actual food. Real whole food provides thousands of phytochemicals, fibre and other nutrients that work together to promote good health, and this cannot be duplicated within a cocktail of supplements.

Some medical experts insist that we get everything we need from a good varied diet, but what they don’t consider is the mineral depleted soils our food is grown in due to intensive farming or the lack of money and cooking skills that affect many people’s daily diets. Eating organically helps, but very few people can actually afford an entirely organic diet.

Reasons to supplement

If you are lucky enough to indulge yourself in organic foods and eat a balanced, varied diet, then you may not need to take supplements. However there are many others whose dinner plates have never seen anything more than ready meals and take-aways. Supplements for them could go some way to plugging the missing gap in their diets.

For others it may be vital to supplement. Pregnant women, for instance, should ensure they are getting 400mcg a day of folic acid to prevent birth defects and they may also need additional iron. Vegans and vegetarians don’t always eat balanced diets and could definitely benefit from supplementation. People with compromised digestion leading to poor absorption of nutrients undoubtedly need supplements and those who are on restricted calorie diets should probably include some additional supplements too. On top of this there are simply some of us who would like to find a natural way to help our bodies heal without having to resort to a multitude of pharmaceutical drugs with nasty side effects!

So how do we know our supplements are safe?

There is legislation in place to ensure the safety of our supplements. Information on this can be found at MHRA – the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (www.mhra.gov.uk) and the Food Standards Agency (www.food.gov.uk).

Unfortunately there are still companies out there who flout the rules and continue to sell things that they shouldn’t. Before you consider parting with your cash for supplements, make use of the internet. Shop around, make comparisons to see what companies offer regarding the quality of their ingredients. Are they natural, are they traceable, and are they full of colourings and additives such as sodium lauryl sulphate, GM ingredients, artificial sweeteners and nasty fillers and bulking agents? Ask questions and take the time to do some research. Look out for systematic reviews by respected organisations such as the Cochrane Collaboration and make the most of health practitioners who have gained professional qualifications in health and nutrition in order to help you make the right choices.

 

Jackie Newson graduated from Westminster University in 2008 with a BSc (Hons) in nutritional therapy. She has since been practising as a nutritional therapist, taking clinics in both London and the Old Town, Hastings. Jackie writes nutrition-related articles for a number of health magazines and works part-time for a supplement company. She also produces online training seminars on health and nutrition. She can be contacted at: www.love-nutrition.eu or by email at lovenutrition.clinic@gmail.com.

Cochrane Collaboration website.

 

Posted 19:34 Wednesday, Sep 18, 2013 In: Health Matters

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