Many people take food supplements in addition to their diet. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of products on the market, all in different doses, combinations and prices.
But do you really need to supplement your diet? How do you know if your product is of good quality?
Is it safe to take? Or are you just wasting your money?
The Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) state ‘food supplements that contain substances like vitamins, amino acids or minerals are generally subject to food safety and food labelling legislation rather than medicines control unless presented for medicinal uses’.
The definition of a supplement is ‘any food, the purpose of which is to supplement the normal diet and which is a concentrated source of a vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect, alone or in combination and is sold in dose form'. (UK Food standards agency).
In the UK food supplements are therefore regulated as foods and are intended to correct nutritional deficiencies. They are not classed as medicinal products and their use is not intended to treat or prevent disease in humans. To sell food supplements in the UK the supplier must be registered with their local authority as a Food Business Operator (FBO). In Northern Ireland, EU food law applies.
Food supplements can also contain a wide range of nutrients and other ingredients such as:
- amino acids
- essential fatty acids
- various plants and herbal extracts
For most of us, all of our vitamins and minerals can be obtained through consuming a healthy, varied diet. There are some people who do need their diets supplementing due to health conditions, poor lifestyle, because they follow a certain diet such as vegans, or because of allergies, certain food groups are eliminated.
There are other factors which also affect the amount of nutrients we are getting from our foods:
- Food choices – People often choose nutrient poor but calorie dense foods.
- Food processing – By processing foods the nutrient content is severely depleted.
- Modern farming methods - Soil depletion, transportation of foods and storage of food all affect the nutrient content of food.
- Poor Lifestyle – Smoking, drinking alcohol and stress all inhibit the uptake of nutrients.
Supplements are available in many forms, from tablets, chewable gummies, drinks, liquids and powders. The products are marketed as easy ways to improve your health and wellbeing.
It is important to note that supplements are designed to supplement your diet, not replace foods and nutrients in your diet. Eating a variety of foods is always the best way to ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals.
If you do choose a supplement, there are several legal requirements the seller must adhere to.
Food supplements sold in Northern Ireland (NI) must include a NI or EU address for the food business. If the food business is not in NI or EU, they must include the address of the importer, based in NI or the EU. From 1 October 2022, food supplements sold in GB must include a UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man address for the food business. If the food business is not in GB, they must include the address of the importer, based in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.
Check that your supplement packaging / label attached to the packaging or a label which is clearly visible through the packaging contains the following information:
- A list of ingredients, including common allergens. Allergens must be clear.
- Conditions for use, including information on the recommended daily dosage and a warning not to exceed this.
- Storage instructions including a statement that the product should be stored out of the reach of young children.
- A ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date .
- The amount of any vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect which is present in the product.
- A statement that food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet
Check the suppliers website for information on their products. Check what standards the manufacturers adhere to.
Are the manufacturers audited on their procedures to meet the standards that that supplier is claiming? Does the supplier have an approval process with the manufacturer to ensure the products they supply meets necessary legislation?
It’s always worth looking at the small print at the bottom of the website. When buying products, make sure the supplier is based in the UK to ensure they meet the standards set by the UK Food Standards Agency.
See if the websites have supporting information about their products. Some good companies selling supplements also have a wealth of evidence based information on their websites around nutrition and optimising health and wellbeing and some also work with healthcare experts who can provide free advice about your health.
A questionnaire can be completed about your diet and lifestyle and any ailments you may be suffering with, an expert will look at the answers and offer free advice on any supplements & dietary advice which may be beneficial for you. This will not replace the advice given by your GP.
Usually good quality supplements cost much more that poor quality supplements, but make sure you do your research before you buy.
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