Supplements 101: To take or not to take them?

Here I will be discussing a food-first approach.


There is a lot of debate when it comes to supplements. I believe that food should be the main source of our macro (carbs, proteins, fat) and micro elements (vitamins and minerals) through a well-balanced diet.

So, if all the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients can be obtained from food - why do we need supplements?

Why do we need supplements?

While the ideal approach is to obtain all necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from a well-balanced diet, there are several reasons why supplements might be considered:

Nutritional gaps

Working with busy people I realised that a well-balanced diet is a myth these days! How many people can cook every meal from scratch? Or even one meal a day from scratch.

Vitamins and minerals are perishable and get lost easily

Fruits and vegetables can be flown hundreds of miles and may have been sitting in warehouses for days before ending up on your table. My beans the other day came from Kenya. I don’t have anything against international trade but they were not picked yesterday!

Quick suggestion: Eating seasonal can help here. You don’t (you shouldn’t really have mandarins in June – you need strawberries as nature intended for you).

Nutrient depletion

We get all our nutrients from the soil. But the soil that our nutrients come from is severely depleted and contains fewer nutrients than before. When compared to the 1930s, fruits and vegetables now contain an average of 20% fewer vitamins and minerals; with 24% magnesium, 46% calcium, 27% iron less than in the 1930s.

Cooking kills vitamins and minerals

For example, vitamin C is destroyed at temperatures between 85 and 95°C (before the water even boils), especially after 10 minutes of cooking.

Quick suggestion: steaming your veg/ broccoli, cauliflower as well as fish (love steamed salmon) is the way forward.

Organic choices

Organic foods have more nutrients and antioxidants. It has fewer chemicals and pesticides that may affect people with allergies and immunity.

Quick suggestion: It’s more expensive to eat organic. I get that. In my home I choose to have organic eggs, milk, and chicken…everything else is a bonus.

Important: If you decide to take food supplements, please understand they should be used alongside a healthy diet not instead, to help you meet your nutritional needs. The word ‘supplement’ means an addition to your food.

How vitamins and minerals support our bodies

Let's take a closer look at the incredible ways vitamins and minerals support our bodies.

Iron prevents anaemia which makes you tired and forgetful. It can be found in food such as; red meat, spinach, blueberries, prunes etc.

Magnesium is super important for energy production, relaxation and sleep. It is found in 70% chocolate, avocado, beans, nuts, dark leafy greens etc.

Vitamin D is well known for bone health/preventing rickets in children, but it is also important for the immune system, inflammation, and even weight loss. We get vit D through our skin, but in smaller amounts, it can be found in oily fish (salmon, sardines, etc.) and eggs.

Choosing a food supplement

When choosing a food supplement, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Always buy capsules instead of tablets – to avoid binders, fillers, anti-caking agents, and are cheaper for the companies to make. Also, there is less space for active nutrients.

Avoid minerals in their in-organic form; oxides, sulphates, chlorides and carbonates. For example;

  • Calcium carbonate is chalk (inorganic form) and the body cannot easily digest and absorb it and it can even make your tummy upset.
  • Ferrous sulphate is inorganic iron and can cause constipation in lots of people. Gluconate or fumarate forms of iron is much better

Choose vitamins and minerals in their organic forms such as citrate, malate or ascorbate. For example: 

  • 300mg of magnesium in the form of magnesium oxide (an inorganic mineral) is absorbed ~ 6% while the magnesium citrate body absorbs up to 90%.
  • Vitamin D3 is 87% more effective than vitamin D2.

The amount of vitamins and minerals in your supplement matters. You need to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals (and other nutrients) to see benefits. Taking too little (or too much) won’t produce the results you are expecting. For example:

  • You need 300mg of magnesium per day to support your nervous system and sleep. If your supplement contains 50 mg you might not feel the benefits you were hoping for.
  • You need 15mg of zinc to keep your immune system in good shape, if your supplement contains 2mg, you might be catching those pesky colds more frequently.
  • Taking large amounts of vitamin D  for several months can be toxic and cause recurrent vomiting, abdominal pain etc. Because any excess that the body doesn't use gets stored in our body.

Safety first: navigating supplement use with care

Most of the supplements are safe to use with medication but there are some exceptions:

  • Fish oils (Omega-3) – not suitable for those taking anticoagulants. Less than 3g Omega is safe.
  • Cranberry juice/dry cranberries are not suitable for those taking anti-coagulants warfarin.
  • Black cohosh is not suitable for those with liver complaints/breast cancer.
  • Ginseng is not suitable for those with high blood pressure or migraines.
  • Gingko biloba is not suitable for those taking warfarin, aspirin or vitamin E.

In addition to these specific precautions, there are a few general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • When taking statins (cholesterol-lowering medication), avoid grapefruit juice.
  • When taking iron supplements, avoid calcium-containing foods (milk, cheese etc.) two hours before and after taking iron.
  • Always take thyroid medication on an empty stomach and avoid eating 30 to 60 minutes afterwards.

When deciding on taking supplements, it’s prudent to talk to a health professional (such as a nutritionist) beforehand to get tailor-made supplements for you. Please also notify your doctor of any supplements you are taking.

Not all supplements are created equal. Some of them just give you expensive yellow pee! 

If you choose to try supplements I just want to say – you really do get what you pay for! So, choose the best that you can afford.

In my practice, I use therapeutic supplements backed up by research and science. And most of them are coming from The Natural Dispensary which is a leading expert in high-quality therapeutic supplements and the largest quality nutritional product supplier in the UK with over 30,000 lines and over 400 brands. Some of the brands that I’m using with my clients (found in Natural Dispensary) include: Pure Encapsulations, Designs for Health, BioCare, Cytoplan, Solgar, Higher Nature, Lamberts.

Remember, supplements are meant to complement a healthy diet and lifestyle, not replace them. Focus on nourishing your body with whole, nutrient-dense foods, and use supplements as an additional support system.

Health is a beautiful journey, and finding the balance that works best for you is key.

My three essential food supplements for everyone over 35

Below are my three essential supplements for anyone over 35. Click on the links and use my practitioner code: MIND15 on the checkout to get 15% off.

  1. Omega 3 liquid fish oil – this is essential for your brain health, stress management and energy production. Use a teaspoon 5ml (less if taking statins) every day.
  2. Omega-3 vegan vegetable algae oil, soft gel capsules.
  3. Multivitamins are essential, covering all the bases and preventing any potential nutritional deficiency. BioCare multi vit Methyl Multinutrient.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Sutton, Surrey, SM1
Written by Angelika Cutuk-Short, MSc Functional Nutritionist / Hormone and Weight specialist
Sutton, Surrey, SM1

Angelika is a functional nutritionist. She specialises in weight loss, hormones and gut health. She helps peri/menopausal women discover the root cause of their health issues using functional testing. She helps women to look and feel healthier than ever, get that energy back and finally fit into those favourite clothes. Health is Wealth.

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