Are supplements a cop-out for a healthy diet?

In an age where we are constantly bombarded with sweet, salty and fatty foods we can often find ourselves falling short of managing a ‘healthy, balanced diet’. We are tight on time, and value other activities more than sourcing and creating balanced meals. Instead, we often turn to processed, easy foods to satisfy our cravings.

But there are still vital nutrients we must get from our diets, and when we think we are falling short of these, one common solution is to turn to supplements.

Vitamins out sold painkillers last year, with a rise of almost 6% to over £400m. But are they a worthwhile and cost-effective boost, or simply a safety net for a poor diet?

Opinion is split. Many health professionals say that if you have a healthy, balanced diet there is no need to take additional supplements, as you should be getting everything you need from your food already.  However, with an increase in recent years of the availability of high sugar, fat and calorie foods which do not contain many essential nutrients, it can be difficult to get everything our bodies need.

Research from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) shows that people from lower socio-economic groups in particular eat diets higher in fats and sugars, and lower in essential nutrients than people from higher socio-economic groups. Research also shows that on average a healthy diet is more expensive than foods that are higher in fats and sugars.

NHS Choices suggests that “All children aged six months to five years should take a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D”. They say this is a precaution because growing children may not get enough of these vitamins – especially those not eating a varied diet.

They also suggest everyone over the age of 5 should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement. This year has seen a spike in vitamin D consumption after deficiency worries from experts that we do not get enough sunlight, and not enough of ‘the sunshine vitamin’.

Deborah Annand, manager at Nutrition Centre Ltd in Cheltenham, says that she would always recommend people “take a multivitamin every day”, especially during the winter. “Not everyone gets everything they need from their diet, and lots of people come in looking to boost their immune system for the winter time, and for that we would suggest certain vitamins”.

So perhaps there are some vitamins that are worthwhile (we all know we could definitely do with a little more sunshine in Britain) and some that are not. However, spending money on fancy multivitamins and nutrient supplements may be a waste of time and money, if you’re getting a healthy and varied diet.

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