Some micronutrients (such as vitamin A) can be toxic when taken in excess; others (such as iron) are better absorbed from food than from a pill. So a supplement is no substitute for a poor diet, nor should it be swallowed lightly. But for some of us the extra boost can make a crucial difference.
Are you one of them? To find out, answer these questions:
Is your stamina on the decline?
Do you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol?
Do you have disturbed sleep?
Do you crave sugar or sweets often, or drink more than three cups of tea or coffee every day?
Are you constantly on a new weight-loss diet?
A “yes” to any of these suggests that your everyday meals, whether dal-roti-sabzi-dahi-fruit or 2-minute noodles, are inadequate for your nutrient needs and lifestyle.
If you smoke cigarettes or are often stressed, you will require 1,000mg more vitamin C each day than the prescribed daily intake of approximately 80mg per day. Too much sugar scavenges large amounts of vitamin B, leaving you tired and listless. Balanced lifestyles require just 30 IU (international units) of vitamin E a day, but stressed lifestyles call for 400 IU and long-standing low-fat diets quickly deplete stores.
Diet extras: Sometimes natural nutrition needs a little pharmaceutical aid.
Supplementation is a necessity nowadays largely because stressful lifestyles increase nutrient needs manifold, though the preferred way to get your minerals and vitamins is always natural nutrition. The only reason supplements score is because they can provide large amounts of nutrients—the amounts required to overcome deficiencies—at minimal calories. For instance, it would take about 28 cups of peanuts (over 3,000 calories) to get 400 IU of vitamin E. A single capsule provides the same at virtually zero extra calories.
A typical vegetarian diet is worth just 20-30g of protein a day. The World Health Organisation recommends 55g for women and 65g for men per day, and if you are exercising regularly, you need much more—at least 1g per kilogram of body weight.
If you are a vegetarian or have weak immunity, falling hair, brittle nails, migraines, wake up feeling low on energy, have disturbed sleep or exercise hard, you need to boost your protein intake. First, increase the intake of high-quality protein foods, such as eggs, poultry, paneer (cottage cheese) and tofu. If the symptoms persist, consider supplementing.
A basic supplement available at the local chemist will give you 5-8g of protein per serving. Whey protein shakes, available at sports nutrition stores, give you 25g of protein per scoop at just 50 calories. It takes 2.5 cups of dal at 200 calories to give you the same protein.
If you smoke, have high stress levels, reside in a polluted environment, get colds frequently, bruise easily, need reading glasses, or have dry skin, high cholesterol levels, diabetes or heart disease, you need at least 500mg of vitamin C a day, in addition to a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables.
Vitamin B complex
A sweet tooth, low vegetable intake, overcooked vegetables, frequent fasts, sleeping pills, aspirin, antibiotics, or lots of tea, coffee, biscuits and 2-minute noodles deplete the body of B vitamins. Try first to increase your intake of vegetables and fruit and control the intake of tea and biscuits. If you continue to feel tired or irritable, have poor concentration and appetite, dull hair and skin or joint pain, you could consider taking a standard vitamin B complex supplements under the guidance of your physician.
Brittle bones, weight training, being female and over 40, hypertension and thyroid issues all require additional calcium. Apart from milk, which can be difficult for some people to absorb, try increasing the intake of almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds (such as in tahina, or sesame seed butter) and chickpea. For added assurance, consume at least 500mg as a supplement with two gulps of milk first thing in the morning. Remember that calcium needs some fat, at least 2% in milk, for maximum absorption.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com