Many individuals and families in Northern Ireland are buying food supplements they might not need and consuming them in the belief they are beneficial to their health, according to new research¹ by safefood.
he safefood-funded research, conducted by Ulster University, found that almost half of adults in Northern Ireland are taking food supplements with almost half of parents stating they give their children food supplements.
Current guidelines for Northern Ireland advise that only Vitamin D is recommended for healthy children and adults and Folic Acid for people who could become pregnant.
The most popular food supplements consumed by adults in Northern Ireland are Vitamin D (60%), Multivitamins and Minerals (41%), and Vitamin C (34%). Fish Oils or Omega 3 (31%), B Vitamins or B Complex (21%), Iron (15%), Magnesium (15%) and Protein (12%) also ranked highly.
The most popular food supplements given to children by their parents are Multivitamins and Minerals (56%), Vitamin D (36%), Vitamin C (28%) and Fish Oils or Omega 3 (20%).
“From the research many people are spending money on supplements they likely don’t need,” said Dr Aileen McGloin, Director of Nutrition with safefood. “While it’s encouraging that Vitamin D is the most consumed supplement, other multivitamins and mineral options appear to be consumed unnecessarily.
“We would advise people to discuss their diet with a trusted healthcare professional first before spending their money on other supplements.”
The research suggests that food supplement use may be on the increase among the general adult population. When asked why they purchased, “generally supporting the immune system” was one of the main perceived advantages that emerged with participants for example referencing “preventing colds and flu”.
The findings revealed those most likely to use food supplements were women and from a higher socioeconomic status. They believed taking supplements would be beneficial to their health, good for them, or that it would be wise to do so.
The research also found that parents who were supplement users were more than twice as likely to give their child a food supplement than parents who were not food supplement users.
Joana De Silva, chief specialist in Nutrition with safefood, said: “We know that a healthy balanced diet is the best way to support good health. Excess water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin C for example can’t be used and will be eliminated from the body, so in reality they’re a waste of money.
“It would be much better for overall health if people were making changes to what they eat rather than taking extra tablets.
“However, if you have a specific medical condition or need to restrict certain foods, then you may need to take supplements. Our advice would be to discuss this with your doctor or a health professional. “
1 – The report, Food Supplements: exploring our reasons for taking them, is available to download from the safefood website at www.safefood.net/news