The supplements you should and shouldn’t be taking if you’re concerned about your diet

Dietitian Melissa Meier shares the four most common vitamin deficiencies and how you can use real food to combat them.

The supplement section of your local supermarket or chemist is B-I-G business. In 2018, vitamin and dietary supplements generated close to three billion dollars in revenue in Australia alone (yes, you read that correctly…). Clearly, we’re keen to plug any nutritional holes with the safety net supplements provide.

In many cases, however, supplements are simply unnecessary and in fact, could be quite dangerous. Some vitamins and minerals (like Vitamin C) are water-soluble, which means any excess is excreted (hello expensive urine), but some nutrients are fat-soluble, which is where the danger lies. That’s because the surplus can be stored in your body and build up overtime, which isn’t ideal. Too much of some nutrients can even be toxic.

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Often, a few simple tweaks to your eating habits can rectify any nutritional shortfalls (and save you a whole lot of coin in the long run). As a dietitian, that’s obviously what I’d prefer to focus on – and that’s where my list below comes in. I’ve explained some common nutritional deficiencies and how to boost your intake via real food if you’re worried your current diet doesn’t cut the mustard.

While you’re figuring out the what-you-put-in-your-mouth side of things, however, a short-term dose of supplements might be necessary. But before you head to your local chemist and pop the bottle on supplements, be sure to consult your doctor or dietitian and only ever embark on a course of supplements under their guidance.

Common nutrient deficiencies – and how to boost your intake with real food

#1: Iron

Iron plays an important role in carrying oxygen around your body and is also key for immunity. Unfortunately, however, it’s estimated that one quarter of females and a third of males don’t get enough – and if you’re in that boat, it could leave you feeling lethargic, struggling to concentrate or suffering from regular infections. Real food sources of iron include red meat, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Iron supplements can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, so if you need to use them, you might need to try a few different options to find one that works for you.

#2: Calcium

Calcium is essential for strong, healthy bones – but it is also commonly under-consumed. Almost three quarters of females and one in two males don’t meet their calcium needs from food. You’ll find calcium in dairy foods, like milk, yoghurt and cheese, but if dairy is not your thing, there are plenty of calcium-fortified alternatives on supermarket shelves, too.

#3: Vitamin B12

With the rise in plant power, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a surge in Vitamin B12 deficiency, too. That’s because Vitamin B12 is only found in foods of animal origin (think: meat, seafood, eggs, dairy) – so if your diet is strictly vegan and you’re not having any B12 fortified foods, you’ll eventually become deficient. That’s a real worry, because Vitamin B12 is essential for nervous system function. Your doctor can easily check your B12 levels, so I’d recommend booking in for a check-up if you’ve recently joined the plant powered movement.

#4: Fibre

A healthy gut relies on sufficient fibre intake, but again, most people don’t consume enough. This can lead to gastrointestinal issues like constipation as well as heart disease and even certain cancers. Fibre-filled foods include wholegrains (rolled oats and wholemeal bread, for example), fruit and veggies with the skin on, legumes, nuts and seeds. Going overboard on fibre (either from food or supplements) can make things much worse, so it’s important to take it slow and drink plenty of water while you’re ramping up your intake.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.