We’ve become a pill-popping nation. The World Health Organization calls vitamins "magic wands" used by the body to synthesise enzymes, hormones and other chemical necessities. However, the best way to gain our 13 essential vitamins is through food, not popping pills—unless they are required to treat severe deficiencies.
Vitamins and minerals work together as a team in the body, so supplementing with one or two “fashionable” vitamins can actually become detrimental to our health, putting the others out of sync. We can't get the same synergistic effect from a supplement, and taking certain micronutrients in higher than recommended doses can interfere with nutrient absorption. Therefore, you need a balance of ALL nutrients to gain optimum health and this is best sourced through food in our diet. Keep scrolling for my guide to what supplements you should be taking…
First of all, it’s important to understand every individual is different, to truly know what vitamins and minerals you're deficient in requires a blood test. However, certain diets or health conditions may prevent nutrient intake from the diet. In these instances, supplementation is beneficial.
So how do you know if you need to supplement (no needles required)? Take a look at the following and see if any of them apply to you…
Do you tend to “grab and go”? This means you're less likely to cook nutritious foods at home, with convenience coming before quality. For many of us, even if we cook meals from scratch, the food isn’t sourced straight from farm to table anymore. As soon as food leaves the soil, its nutritional quality becomes depleted. After 24 hours in the fridge, vegetables lose one-fourth of their vitamin C and after two days, nearly half.
Cooking vegetables, especially boiling, depletes the nutrient value. Water-soluble vitamins such as B vitamins and vitamin C dissolve in water. Look to lightly steam your vegetables instead to help retain more of these vitamins. Try eating raw red peppers in a salad, they contain three times the vitamin C than oranges; kale and broccoli are also rich in vitamin C.
Vegans should supplement with B12, as the only source of B12 they will gain is from fortified foods. Those who follow an organic vegan diet will not gain any B12 as this is sourced solely from animal products, meat, fish and dairy foods. [Ed note: Try Solgar Vitamin B12 Nuggets, £11].
We can gain all micronutrients if we eat a balanced diet. There are 20 amino acids that our bodies need to build and repair tissues, but nine of these we cannot synthesise in our bodies. Known as essential amino acids, we have get these from protein in our diet. Egg contains all nine essential amino acids. Lacking in these will cause muscle wastage, so vegans should include quinoa and hemp seed in their diet, as these contain the nine essential amino acids.
People living in sun-deprived areas (ahem, Britain) and vegans tend to be vitamin D deficient (known as the sunshine vitamin) and could benefit from supplements. Recent research suggests that 50–70% of Europeans are vitamin D deficient; it's an important vitamin for the growth and maintenance of our bones. Fatty fish such as salmon and herring contain reasonable amounts of vitamin D. Eggs and meat contain very small amounts. A supplement of 10 micrograms a day is recommended. Try Better You DLux Vitamin D (£8).
Pregnant women, or those trying to conceive, should take 400 micrograms daily of folic acid to prevent birth defects such as spinal bifida.
Iron supplementation would be beneficial for young women with very heavy periods due to risking iron deficiency; 8 mg/d is the nutrient reference value (NRV) from women aged 19–50 years.
People aged 50+ may benefit from B vitamin supplements as absorption in the digestive tract becomes less efficient with age.
Our modern day lifestyles can also take their toll, here I list out the supplements you should look to include if you…
Feel stressed or anxious: We tend to change our eating and drinking habits when stressed. Increasing alcohol makes the body release adrenaline and affects blood sugar levels, which will affect your sleep. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection.
Aim: Eat at least 5–7 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day, especially those high in vitamin C, B and magnesium.
Not sleeping well: Magnesium can help here. It relaxes muscles and decreases cortisol levels (known as the stress hormone).
Aim: Making sure your potassium levels are in check can help improve your sleep quality if cramps keep you awake. It works synergistically with magnesium to improve sleep. Bananas and sweet potatoes are rich in potassium. [Ed note: Try Westlab Magnesium Flakes, £9, in the bath].
Working longer hours than usual: Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA promote mental focus, helping to increase brain function needed for those long office hours.
Aim: I would recommend taking Tom Oliver The Omega 3 MOPL (£40).
Exercising more: Magnesium is required for energy production and is important for calcium intake across cell membranes, needed for nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction and cardio function.
Aim: Keep a Better You Magnesium Spray (£9) in your gym bag and apply it post-workout after you shower.