3 Times You Need To Take A Supplement, According To A Dietician

by | Mar 24, 2014 | Health

Tired? Need a lift? Dietician Celeste Naude gives us the lowdown on when you need supplements…

If you’re feeling tired and rundown or are pregnant or menopausal, you’re probably wondering if you need to boost your health by taking vitamin, mineral or other nutritional supplements. But the question is, do you really need supplements and, if you take them, will they help?

We know that what we eat and the way we live affects our health and bodily functions, impacting directly on our wellbeing. But for many of us our diet and lifestyle are far from ideal. This may be one of the reasons that supplements are becoming increasingly popular. They’re seen as a quick fix to shortcomings in our diet and a way to protect ourselves against disease. A sort of health insurance in a jar.

Surely nothing could be simpler than loading up on the goodness of vitamins and minerals with a supplement or two…

READ MORE: 7 Fat-Melting Supplements You Need To Include In Your Diet

Boost With Food First

You’re fooling yourself if you think a supplement can make up for unhealthy eating habits. Supplements are no replacement for a healthy diet. That’s because a good diet, with a variety of foods from all the food groups, is able to supply components that cannot be added to ‘enriched’ foods or supplements at optimal levels and in the right combinations.

The food and beverages we consume provide all the vital nutritional components needed by our bodies, including water, dietary fibre and phytochemicals. Food has a complex composition that cannot be replicated in supplements, so it’s not right to assume that a healthy, balanced diet can be replaced by nutritional supplements such as pills or shakes.

There are specific individual cases and circumstances where nutritional supplementation and enriched foods can be helpful in meeting nutrient needs. For instance, a pregnant woman will need more calcium and folate (folic acid) to ensure healthy development of her foetus, while someone on a vegan diet may not be getting enough iron and vitamin B12 for the rapid growth her body is going through. See below what pregnant women should take.

READ MORE: The 4 Best Supplements For Your Gut Issues — And Those To Totally Avoid

Get Expert Advice

Nutritional supplementation is only useful when done correctly and in combination with an adequate and well-balanced diet. A registered dietician can help you evaluate your diet and advise on the best way to firstly improve it and then supplement it, if necessary. Take recommended calcium intake as an example. Individual counselling can help you decide whether you consume enough dairy products and other sources of calcium, whether a calcium-fortified cereal or fruit juice or perhaps a calcium supplement would help, or whether your dietary plus supplemental calcium intake should be reduced to stay below the upper limit.

Before taking supplements in large volumes, talk to your registered dietician. More is not always better and by flippantly taking supplements, you may be doing more harm than good. While vitamins are essential for good health, in high doses some vitamins can cause problems. Vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in your body’s fat cells and when these vitamins build up they can become toxic. Supplements can also interact with other prescription medication and affect how well they work.

In some cases supplements can help you top up on the vitamins and minerals you need. But for your day-to-day needs it’s best to call on Mother Nature. She’s already packed all the nutrients you need into far tastier packaging.

READ MORE: 5 Signs You Might Have A Scary Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Cases That Call For Supplements…


Folate is needed to support the rising maternal blood volume and to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Based on thorough research, it’s recommended that women start taking a daily folate supplement of 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) about three months prior to conception and continue through at least the first three months of pregnancy. Foods rich in folate that can be added to the diet include green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, dried beans and peas and poultry.

Iron is needed to make sure the blood supply to the developing baby and the placenta is adequate. Women’s iron stores are often low and should be checked using blood tests before and during pregnancy. If blood tests show that iron levels are low, safe doses of iron supplements can be prescribed. It’s not a good idea to take iron supplements without a definite diagnosis of poor iron status as these supplements can be dangerous. An iron deficiency can be prevented by eating more iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, fish, poultry, dried fruits, whole-grain breads and iron-fortified cereals.

The expectant mother’s calcium supply provides the baby with the calcium needed for the development of healthy bones and teeth. Depending on a woman’s age, 1000 mg–1300 mg of calcium and 200 IU (International Units) of vitamin D is needed in the diet. This equals about four to six portions of dairy products or calcium-rich foods a day. If calcium intake is inadequate during pregnancy, calcium supplements may be needed.

READ MORE: Your Super-Bad PMS Could Be Because You’re Lacking These 3 Vitamins

Fatigue And Environmental Stress

A complete multivitamin and mineral supplement could be taken to enhance nutrient intake levels and stores. Choose a multi-vitamin multi-mineral supplement that contains all or most of the vitamins (minimum of 12) and minerals (minimum of 14), providing 50 to 150 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and avoid products with mega-dosages.

Don’t take it indefinitely and reassess the need for supplementation regularly. If you are eating healthfully and still feel tired all the time, try changing the frequency of your meals. Some people prefer three larger meals during the day, while others find they get more of a boost with several smaller meals, spread more frequently throughout the day. There’s no right or wrong since we are individuals and everyone’s energy needs differ.

Other dietary reasons for fatigue include too much alcohol and anaemia, a condition of iron or B-vitamin deficiency.

Looking for more? Here’s why your vitamins might be making your nauseous.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This