Everyone wants to enjoy the benefits of optimal health, but achieving and maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle is often easier said than done. How do we do it? And how do we ensure that we’re getting the vital nutrients that aren’t always part of our diet?
“The first step towards achieving good health is through good nutrition. A healthy diet that includes lots of fresh fruit and vegetables should always be your first source of nutrients,” says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA).
Sometimes however, the hectic pace of life and the high cost of healthy foods means our diets don’t always include the essential nutrients we need and that’s when supplements can help.
“Self-care can help curb illness, meaning fewer visits to the hospital and doctor, which saves you time and money. While supplements are an important aspect of self-care and a means to take care of your general health, it’s important to remember that they should never be considered a cure for serious illness,” highlights Vienings.
What is a dietary supplement?
A dietary supplement includes ingredients that add nutritional value to your diet. It comes in tablet, capsule, liquid, or powder form.
“According to Euromonitor International’s August 2013 report on vitamins and dietary supplements in South Africa, the middle-class consumer population growth is increasingly influencing market growth for vitamins and dietary supplements in South Africa”, says Vienings.
“Vitamins and dietary supplements are generally perceived as luxury products in the eyes of most lower-income consumers; as such, middle- to higher-income consumers are the prime target for the vitamins and dietary supplements products in South Africa.
Population growth for the middle-class consumer is being influenced by economic empowerment programmes such as the Broad Based Black Empowerment Programme by the government, which now allow previously disadvantaged people to have access to better jobs.”
Who should take supplements?
Supplements can benefit the following broad spectrum of people: the elderly, pregnant women or women trying to fall pregnant, anyone not getting their recommended calories for the day, vegans and vegetarians, or people with difficulty absorbing nutrients from food, and children who need added vitamins and nutrients to help them grow.
Some commonly used supplements include:
- Antioxidants – Protect the immune system and benefit the heart, eyes, muscles and skin.
- Calcium – Strengthens bones.
- Folic Acid – Reduces the risk of birth defects of the brain or spinal cord.
- Garlic supplement – Helps lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Iron – Pregnant women usually require double the amount of iron.
- Magnesium – Required for the production of energy and regulates the production of cholesterol.
- Prenatal multivitamins – Most doctors recommend the daily use of prenatal multivitamins for pregnant women.
- Probiotics – Some clinical studies have recognised the effectiveness of probiotics in the treatment of certain gastrointestinal ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, and in delaying the development of allergies in children.
- Vitamin B – Helps form red blood cells and aids the process of turning food into energy.
- Vitamin C – Can often shorten the length and severity of a cold by boosting the immune system.
- Vitamin E – Helps reduce the risk of heart disease in healthy adults by 40%.
“The vitamins and minerals contained in a multivitamin and mineral supplement cover all the essential nutrients, including antioxidants,” explains Vienings.
Prevention is better than cure. In order for supplements to work effectively, they must be taken regularly and, as with any over-the-counter product, as prescribed by your pharmacist or health care professional.