I was recently interviewed by Megan Tatum from Women’s Health for a feature looking at the reality behind supplements that claim to boost immunity. We talked about the balance between these supplements and diet when it comes to preventing disease. Here are some snippets from the interview.
When do you need supplements?
Supplements can be extremely useful in situations where people are vulnerable and potentially at risk of not being able to get all their nutrients from food. Examples include people who may have a low appetite (such as housebound elderly), pregnant women who need to take folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects, and people who may have health issues that compromise their immunity. In these cases, taking a supplement shouldn’t make you feel guilty as they can improve your health and well-being.
The sunshine vitamin
My goto supplement for everyone is vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Vitamin D also helps your muscles, nerves and immune system work properly. We should all take a 10mcg vitamin D supplement, especially in Autumn and Winter. In much of North America and Europe, it is only during the summer months that UV light from the sun is strong enough for your skin to make vitamin D. And it is important to make enough vitamin D during these months so that your body has a store to last you through winter.
Supplements for vegans
Vegans who are not able to get enough iodine, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 can also benefit from supplements, but it is definitely possible for people on a plant-based diet to achieve all the nutrients they need if they consider nutrient absorption, as described in Vegan Savvy: having vitamin C with a vegetarian meal will improve iron absorption; research suggests you could get more than six times the amount of vitamin A from carrots by stir-frying instead of eating them raw; and you should eat larger portions of spinach to get your calcium as oxalates in spinach reduce absorption.
The bottom line…
We should ideally aim to get our full range of immune-supporting nutrients from a wide variety of foods including whole grains, pulses, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as dairy foods, fish and lean meats if you eat them. But there is a place for supplementation – ask a dietitian for advice if you’re unsure.