Balanced diet vs food supplements
First things first: for most people, a varied and balanced diet covers their daily requirement of vitamins and minerals in a completely natural way. A colourful mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy protein from eggs and fish is sufficient.
Many supplements contain vitamins and minerals. These are vital for our body. Without them, processes like metabolism, muscle and bone formation and blood formation would not function.
What are minerals?
Minerals are substances that the human body can't produce itself and must therefore be absorbed through food. They don’t provide energy, but are indispensable for many functions in the body. Minerals include chloride, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium and phosphorus. These can't be produced synthetically and, along with trace elements and vitamins, are vital for the body.
Food supplements are a trend
Our relationship with food has changed: while some people doubt the quality of food, some follow a special diet and others adhere to the maxim of “a lot helps a lot”. However, it's precisely with regard to this last point that we should be careful: although an excess of nutrients in food isn't a problem – as excess substances are simply excreted – an overdose of supplements can have a toxic effect. For example: an overdose of magnesium over a long period of time leads to diarrhoea, excess zinc leads to nausea or vomiting, and too much iron to constipation. Caution is therefore advised when taking additional mineral supplements.
Food supplements can be helpful, depending on a person’s situation
In certain situations, it makes sense to take products that provide the body with an added boost. In the case of illness, added physical stress, an insufficient supply or problems with the absorption of nutrients (malabsorption), the body has a greater need of certain nutrients.
Which minerals for which situations
Here is a selection of situations in which it may be useful to take additional minerals. It is important in this context to seek advice from a specialist.
During pregnancy and leading up to pregnancy
Taking folic acid, a vitamin, is important before and during pregnancy to prevent the development of birth defects such as a neural tube defect. This is because it's difficult during pregnancy to cover the body’s increased need through food alone. Specific multivitamin and mineral supplements are therefore recommended. However, they shouldn't include vitamin A – as an overdose during pregnancy can harm the unborn child.
«Malnutrition» in vegans
In contrast to vegetarians who – provided they eat a balanced diet – eat sufficient animal products like eggs and dairy products, vegans eliminate these foods from their diets. It’s therefore difficult for vegans to get enough vitamin B12, as it comes almost exclusively from animal products. A deficiency disrupts blood formation and has a negative effect on the nervous system.
Darkness in winter
According to the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office, people between the ages of three and sixty don't need vitamin D supplements during the summer months if they spend regular time outdoors.
Twenty minutes with the face and hands in the sun are enough to prevent a vitamin D deficiency. In winter, the situation is somewhat different: to cover our requirement, we should all eat a diet rich in vitamin D – in addition to vitamin D supplements. This means regular servings of fatty fish, eggs and mushrooms.
In old age
From the age of sixty, the gastrointestinal tract changes and automatically reduces nutrient absorption. When coupled with a lack of appetite or difficulty in chewing, the result can be a nutrient deficiency. In such cases, doctors recommend food supplements containing vitamin B12, iron and calcium.
Food supplements: no substitute for a balanced diet
As mentioned at the beginning: people who eat a balanced diet don't normally need additional minerals. Supplements don't replace a varied diet. On the contrary: they can upset the finely tuned mineral balance in the body.