It may be nice to think that swal­low­ing a tablet can boost your health but it’s not that sim­ple, writes Paula Goodyer.

Australian House & Garden - - LIVING -

‘Sin­gle foods can con­tain hun­dreds of pro­tec­tive chem­i­cals, and dif­fer­ent nu­tri­ents can work to­gether to help keep us in good health.’

Dr Tim Crowe, re­search sci­en­tist and di­eti­tian

Ahealth­ier life­style is a com­mon New Year’s res­o­lu­tion, but should that in­clude tak­ing nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments? Well, there are a few things to con­sider be­fore you pop a pill – in­clud­ing his­tory.

Us­ing vi­ta­min and min­eral sup­ple­ments to pre­vent dis­ease looked promis­ing last cen­tury, but re­cent stud­ies sug­gest sin­gle nu­tri­ents taken as sup­ple­ments aren’t as use­ful as the nu­tri­ents in real food. They may, in fact, even do harm. In the 1990s, the hope was that vi­ta­min E and se­le­nium might help pre­vent prostate can­cer, but fur­ther re­search found that they may in­crease the risk in some men. The lat­est can­cer-pre­ven­tion ad­vice from the World Can­cer Re­search Fund is that nu­tri­ents are best ob­tained from food, not sup­ple­ments.

What does the re­search say?

Last year, a re­view of re­search re­ported in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Car­di­ol­ogy found that the four most com­mon sup­ple­ments (mul­ti­vi­ta­mins, vi­ta­min D, cal­cium and vi­ta­min C) did not re­duce the risk of heart dis­ease, stroke or pre­ma­ture death, says re­search sci­en­tist and di­eti­tian Dr Tim Crowe. Folic acid showed a small de­crease in risk, but with an­tiox­i­dant sup­ple­ments there was a slightly in­creased risk of pre­ma­ture death.

Does any­one ben­e­fit from sup­ple­ments? “They’re im­por­tant in preg­nancy and for any­one with con­di­tions that make it dif­fi­cult to ab­sorb nu­tri­ents, such as Crohn’s or coeliac dis­ease,” says Crowe. “Veg­e­tar­i­ans may re­quire ex­tra iron and ve­g­ans will need a B12 sup­ple­ment. Peo­ple with darker skin and those with lit­tle sun ex­po­sure have a higher risk of vi­ta­min D de­fi­ciency.” But ask your GP to check if you are ac­tu­ally de­fi­cient be­fore lay­ing out any cash, he ad­vises.

Who should take vi­ta­mins?

“We know we need a healthy diet, but that’s not the re­al­ity for some peo­ple,” says Crowe. “If that’s the case, a mul­ti­vi­ta­min ev­ery day or ev­ery other day might help. Older peo­ple – who don’t ab­sorb nu­tri­ents as well – may ben­e­fit from a mul­ti­vi­ta­min, too. But whole, min­i­mally pro­cessed food is so much bet­ter than pills. Sin­gle foods can con­tain hun­dreds of pro­tec­tive chem­i­cals, and dif­fer­ent nu­tri­ents can work to­gether to help keep us in good health.”

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