It's important that your body gets enough vitamins and minerals every day in order to keep you fit and healthy. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. Vitamins affect every part of your body, including:
- the way your hair, nails and muscles develop and grow,
- your sight,
- the way you digest food, and
heart and your nervous system.
If you eat a balanced diet that includes food from all the major groups, there should be no need to take vitamin supplements. The food you eat will provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need. Supplements should only be used as a top-up if it is not possible to eat a healthy balanced diet - they aren't a substitute for healthy eating!
Which supplements should you consider taking and when?
Before you take a supplement, it's important to know about recommended daily allowances (RDAs).
The amount of vitamins you need depends on your age, health and lifestyle. For example, the RDA for children is often lower than that for adults. Older people, those with specific medical conditions, pregnant women, and people on special diets may need to increase their intake of certain vitamins and minerals.
How to take supplements
If they're not taken properly, supplements are flushed through your body without being absorbed. Take supplements with water at room temperature - hot or chilled drinks can damage them. Don't drink tea or coffee 15 minutes before or after taking supplements because they interfere with nutrient absorption. Make sure you read the label on the bottle, and take supplements with or after food as directed.
Don't take lots of different supplements because they can interact with each other and be less effective, for example, zinc interferes with how copper and iron are absorbed.
Check with your doctor if you have any concerns, and remember to store all vitamins and minerals out of the reach of children. If you are unsure about which supplements (and what quantities) are safe to take, consult a dietician, your doctor or pharmacist
People on special diets
Vegetarians or vegans can sometimes miss out on vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron and zinc which are mainly found in meat and dairy products. You don't need to take supplements if you eat a balanced diet. Iron and zinc are found in eggs, whole-grain cereals, legumes, green leafy vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals. For calcium, vitamins B2 and B12, try to eat two servings of low-fat dairy products a day. If you don't eat dairy products, try soya milk, fortified orange juice, dark leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, or almonds.
As animal products provide the best source of vitamins B2 and B12, vegans who avoid animal products altogether may benefit from taking supplements.