Food Supplements: How to Choose Them?

Food supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients, i.e. vitamins and minerals, substances for nutritional or physiological purposes, or plants and plant preparations intended to compensate for deficiencies in a person’s regular diet.

Characteristic of food supplements:

  • Concentrated source of one or more nutrients
  • Often specific to certain pathologies, situations or periods of life
  • In no way replaces a balanced and varied diet
  • Compliance with dosages is essential to avoid the risk of overdose
  • Self-medication strongly discouraged

Why Consume Food Supplements?

Food Supplements: Definition and Benefits

Supplements can come in different forms: capsules, tablets, tablets, pills, powder packets, liquid ampoules, vials with a dropper, solutions, etc….

Authorized Food Supplements

The European Union has issued a list of vitamins and minerals authorized in the manufacture of food supplements.

Among the vitamins are:

  • Vitamine A
  • Vitamine B1
  • Vitamine B2
  • Vitamine B3
  • Vitamine B5
  • Vitamine B6
  • Vitamine B8
  • Vitamine B9
  • Vitamine B12
  • Vitamine C
  • Vitamine D
  • Vitamine E
  • Vitamine K

The minerals include the following:

  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Fluorine
  • Iodine
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese 
  • Molybdenum
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

The advertising, promotion, and labeling of food supplements must not state that they have properties that prevent, treat or cure any disease. Nor should they suggest that they replace a varied and healthy diet. Similarly, they should not claim that a diversified diet does not contain enough vitamins and minerals.

As for plants that are used in food supplements, they must be included in the list of plants authorized for free sale.

Main Types of Vitamin Supplements on the Market

There are various categories of vitamin supplements on the market. Here is a list of the most sought-after and most present supplements on the market:

  • Hair and beard food supplements
  • Protein-based food supplements for weight training and sports
  • Food supplements to make you fat or lose weight
  • Organic and natural food supplements
  • Dietary supplements in iron, zinc, and antioxidants
  • Dietary supplements specific to pregnancy
  • Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis

How to Use Food Supplements Properly?

Use of Supplements

Although a balanced diet is necessary for good health, our current living patterns sometimes tend to interfere with this balance. In this case, it may be advisable to opt for food supplements in order to compensate for possible intake deficiencies.

Recommended Nutritional Intake

Official nutritional intakes are referred to under different names depending on the country and their standards may vary. They indicate, by age and sex, how much nutrients are needed to maintain good health. By assessing your daily intake of each essential nutrient, you will be able to suspect a possible deficiency. However, it is strongly recommended to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking a food supplement. Remember to read the leaflet carefully, especially if you decide to combine different types of food supplements.

Special Situations

Some special situations may require the use of food supplements to compensate for the lack of certain nutrients. Some doctors strongly recommend that pregnant patients take supplements containing iron, calcium or vitamin B9 as these nutrients are essential for a healthy pregnancy. Women with heavy periods may also need to take an iron supplement. People with special diets, such as vegetarians and vegans, or very active people are also more likely to need to use food supplements.

Read the Label of Food supplements carefully

The label of a food supplement must include the following information:

  • The names of the categories of nutrients or substances characterizing the product or an indication of the nature of these nutrients or substances
  • The number of vitamins and minerals present in the product must be indicated in numerical form in weight units
  • The percentage of vitamins and minerals in relation to the recommended daily intake must be indicated
  • The recommended daily consumption must be recorded
  • The label must indicate how the product is to be used (quantity, frequency, special circumstances)
  • A warning that it is not recommended to exceed the indicated daily dose
  • A statement that food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy and diversified diet
  • A warning that products should be kept out of the reach of children

Adverse Reactions 

Food supplements should not replace the intakes that need to be supplemented by food but should complement them. In addition, it is advisable to follow the dosage carefully as a sub-dose will have no effect and an overdose may cause adverse reactions.

Deficiencies in France

By following dietary recommendations that help you know how to eat a balanced diet, a person should consume all the vitamins and minerals they need on a daily basis. However, a study conducted by the Institut de Veille Sanitaire (InVS) revealed that nearly 80% of the French population suffers from vitamin D deficiency.

Another important deficiency is iron deficiency: between 20% and 25% of the world’s population would be affected, this is called iron deficiency anemia. These deficiencies are partly linked to a diet that is not very varied and low in fruit and vegetables. 

Ineffectiveness of Certain Supplements

A study carried out in 2006 and 2007 by the Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments (AFSSA) showed that 20% of adults had consumed at least one food supplement during the year. However, there is not enough research or scientific rigor to demonstrate with certainty the effectiveness of food supplements. In 2010, for example, a study presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm, Sweden, highlighted the ineffectiveness of supplements for slimming.

Risks with Excessive Intake

The majority of food supplements are highly concentrated in vitamins and minerals. Unsafe consumption can, therefore, be dangerous to health. Various studies have identified risks of cardiovascular disorders, increased mortality in older people, the development of certain types of cancers, including lung cancer, bone problems, and kidney dysfunction. Be careful when taking a food supplement. The advice of a health professional is strongly recommended.

Interactions with Other Nutrients

Many dietary supplements may interact with each other and/or with certain drug treatments. Possible interactions should be taken very seriously to avoid serious consequences. In general, do not practice self-medication and talk to your doctor about your supplementation project.