There are plenty of supplements on the market, but do you really need to take these tablets to stay healthy?

Ultimately, if you eat a well-balanced diet – a variety of food in a rainbow of colours – you probably don’t need to take supplements. Nutritionists agree that quite often, optimum nutritional benefit will be derived from certain vitamins and minerals being eaten at the same time (iron with vitamin C, for example). Therefore, eating a plate of different foods gives you the best chance of bringing these various nutritional elements together. Also supplements are not going to add other important benefits like fibre, polyphenols or other beneficial phytochemicals.

When you might want to use supplements

• If your doctor identifies a certain deficiency – a lack of iron, for example – then you might be prescribed a particular supplement for a set amount of time. Older people might also be advised to top up their regular diet with certain supplements too, as directed by their doctor.

• There is strong medical evidence that pregnant women and those planning to get pregnant do benefit from taking a supplement of folic acid. Folic acid is good for men and women in regular diets too.

• Vitamin D supplements can be useful for those who are housebound and others who may not have normal levels of exposure to sunlight.

• Those preparing for sporting or other physical activity may be advised to increase their levels of certain vitamins or minerals but again this should be under the right supervision.

• Vegetarians can struggle to get enough vitamin B12 and iron from a vegetarian diet and may need to takes supplements.

Everyday supplement use
Lots of people outside those groups above do still like to ‘top up’ their intake with a supplement. There are many good options easily available on the high street, but if you choose to take a supplement, do bear these points in mind:

• Choose one that is right for your age – many are tailored to specific needs.

• Don’t overdo it. Follow the label’s instructions on how much to take each day and if you forget to take the right dose one day, don’t double up the next day, just stick to the right amount for any 24-hour period. This is because some vitamins can be dangerous if taken in excess.

• Remember that this is no substitute for a well-balanced diet and a level of physical exercise that is healthy in your circumstance.