All you need to know about vitamin supplements including warning over fizzy tablets

Many of us take some form of vitamin supplement each day – but do we really need to?

The NHS says we don’t, and ideally everyone should get all their necessary vitamins and minerals by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Iron, calcium and vitamin C are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. And you can always get enough of them if eating sensibly.

To stay healthy, the NHS recommends:

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day (see 5 A Day)
  • Base meals on higher fibre starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, bread or pasta
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
  • Eat some pulses, beans, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and make sure to eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids (at least six to eight glasses a day)

The temptation to down vitamin supplements can be overwhelming, but the NHS says taking too many of them or taking them for too long could actually be harmful.

However there are are certain supplements the Department of Health and Social Care recommends for some groups of people at risk of deficiency.

Folic acid supplement in pregnancy
It has long been highly recommended that anyone pregnant or trying for a baby should take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day until you’re 12 weeks pregnant.

These folic acid supplements must be taken before getting pregnant, so it is important to start on them before you stop using contraception, or if there’s a chance you might get pregnant.

Folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida – where a baby’s spine and spinal cord fail to develop properly in the womb.

Benefits of a vitamin D supplement
Most of us get all the vitamin D we need through sunlight on our skin and through eating a balanced diet.

But during the autumn and winter, you need to get vitamin D from your diet as the sun is simply not strong enough for your body to make enough of it.

As it’s hard for people to get enough vitamin D from just food, the NHS recommends that everyone – including pregnant and breastfeeding women – should think about taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter.

Some of us are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency and as such are advised to take a daily supplement.

It is highly recommended that:

  • People not often exposed to the sun – perhaps if they are housebound, frail, in a care home, or often wear clothes that cover most of their skin when outside should take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D
  • Babies being breast fed should be given a daily supplement of 8.5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D from birth. And this is even if the mother is taking a vitamin D supplement.
  • Babies having 500mls (roughly a pint) or more of formula a day should not be given a vitamin D supplement, because infant formula is fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients.
  • All children aged from one to four years should be given a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.

Vitamins A, C and D supplements
The NHS says it’s a good idea for youngsters aged from six months to five years to take a daily dose of supplements containing vitamins A, C and D.

If you have a medical condition, a GP may recommend certain supplements; for example you could be prescribed iron to treat iron deficiency anaemia.

Warning over fizzy tablets
Fizzy vitamin supplements or effervescent painkillers can surprisingly contain up to 1g of salt per tablet. As such, it’s wise to change to a non-fizzy tablet. This is especially prudent if you have been advised to limit your salt intake.