To SUPPLEMENT or NOT to SUPPLEMENT – that is the question... 

There are a variety of beliefs regarding vitamin supplementation. It ranges from supplementation being overkill due to the availability of all nutrients in a balanced diet, to the belief that supplementation is essential because our products lack required vitamins and minerals due to production methods, storage and production processes. 

 Some feel it to be essential for maintained energy and vitality while others believe it to be imperative to improve and maintain one’s immune system.

Be this as it may, all of the above have it’s merits. However, as humans we frequently require a “crutch” to make us feel better or even stronger, and we abuse vitamin supplementation to obtain the required good, protected and energized feeling. Vitamin supplementation, in my opinion, is required when:

  • dietary intake is not balanced

  • dietary intake composes largely of processed and unenriched / unfortified food items

  • Individual has illness that affects vitamin status (either depletes vitamin levels in body or requirement becomes elevated, etc.)

  • Chronically ill

  • Pregnant woman

  • Elderly

There is no harm in supplementing one's diet if one is of the opinion that the daily vitamin requirements are not being met. I frequently recommend supplementation to individuals who have severely stressed life styles, but at the same time, I do need to caution individuals that it might not always be required, especially if you are maintaining a healthy diet and exercise program which helps with stress relief. Very often, it just makes us feel better.

When the body requires additional supplementation, it will be utilized, but if there is continual over- supplementation that is not required it can lead to “hypervitaminosis”. Hypervitaminosis is the excessive intake of certain vitamins, which can lead to clinical abnormalities.

If vitamin supplementation is administered, I recommend supplements in a “food-state” form, which has been proven to be more accessible to the body.  Thus the body utilizes the supplementation more effectively and obtains all the benefit it should.  “Food-state” supplementation is available at selected pharmacies and some organizations distribute the products direct.

Some individuals supplement their diets with additional protein, amino acid and/or carbohydrates. These are for various reasons ranging from exercise regimes to “special dietary” requirements. My recommendation would always be that you consult your Dietician before and during the administration of the supplementation, since some of the supplementation can be detrimental to your health. It is always advisable to get a professional opinion on regimes that are out of the ordinary.

We are lead, and so often mislead by the media, organizations and/or people’s opinions. I often hear individuals claim that you can not afford to eat healthily, since it is extremely expensive. Companies and organizations often create that impression, since it inspires you to purchase their products. People on weight reduction diets are frequently told to choose specific “branded”, more expensive products, when often there are cheaper alternatives.

The solution: Create a culture of awareness within your family and friendship circles.  Think carefully about what you are being told. No matter how credible and convincing information may seem, attempt to ascertain the person/company's motives. Some companies and organizations will tell you anything to make a “quick buck”. Become an aware consumer and READ LABELS. Lately most products provide you with a nutritional composition breakdown on the rear of the wrapping. Read to see if it is a low fat or low sodium (salt), etc, product. This way you can choose “ordinary” products instead of branded items to achieve your goal.

Please do not be mislead by marketing and word play. Often companies advertise their products to be something when in essence it is not. An example that jumps to mind is a yogurt that has been released specifically for children (adults can use it too). All the marketing around this product states how healthy and nutritious it is, making it essential for each household with a child. When reading the dietary information, I could not help but frown. My child will never see this product. It consists mostly of cream, sugar and artificial fruit flavors. I would rather provide my child with a yogurt, which contains real fruit (containing natural sugars and fibers). Also, just because children typically have a higher energy requirement should not imply that the fat intake should escalate. A low fat yogurt is recommended, since it is low in cholesterol. Remember, children develop their eating habits during childhood and it is hard to change bad habits once you hit adulthood.

Another example is products claiming to be low in salt, but when reading the dietary description at the back, you quickly pick-up ingredients such as “mono-sodium glutamate”. Anything called sodium (or related) is salt. Thus the product is not as “salt-free” as advertised.

When looking for fat free products, just read the labels. Very often there are cheaper alternatives to the known brands which are equally, if not more suitable and effective.

Another important aspect of maintaining a balanced diet is to know how to deal with CRAVINGS and the ever-dreaded “FORBIDDEN” foods. There will always be days when you feel like a chocolate or that piece of cake you have been craving for weeks. These cravings typically arise either due to an unbalanced diet where we are deprived from various items or it is a psychological depravation of some sorts, where we feel we need it since we had such a bad day or we feel lonely, depressed, etc.  Some people just crave and eat high fat, high sugar items out of habit.

“Forbidden” foods are typically items which are high in fat, high in refined sugar, no or low in fiber, and apart from a very high energy value, have very little or no nutritional value. It is easy for me to tell you to rather have something more nutritious and beneficial to eat, but the reality of the matter is that these items are around us all the time. At parties, functions, in shops at the counter whilst waiting in the queue – it screams your name! Isn't it amazing how attractive the forbidden fruit are?

The question is how to deal with this. First, follow a balanced diet plan (this does not include any of the fad or quick fix diets on the market). The balance diet is a diet which promotes the guidelines I have provided you with earlier. By following some of these fad and quick fix diets you end up being deprived either from an energy or nutritive aspect. This leads to cravings that in turn will lead to an obsession with food, which at some point will result in eating of the forbidden items (possibly in excessive quantities). This results in guilt, which leads to the feeling of failure and eventually results in the person absconding from the diet and picking up weight.

Individuals who eat these items for emotional reasons (depressed, sad, lonely, etc.) will go through the same emotional cycle afterwards(guilt, feeling of failure, etc.) as those on a deprivation diet.

Secondly, it should not be seen as forbidden foods. It is quite psychological really, since if you know you can't have it,  you crave it so much more and feel guilty when you have it. The key is just to control the intake. If you feel like something sweet, rather have a fruit and in most cases the craving will go away. If not and you still feel like that chocolate, then have it, but do not think about it again after you have had it. What you can do to compensate for it is to have smaller meals for the rest of the day, but again, do not deprive yourselves of meals because of this.

Moderation is the key. When you have this craving and it just wont go away, have a small slice of cake or a small chocolate, not a slab or half of the cake. This way you get what you want with impunity.

A good idea is also always to incentivise yourself.  Do not just give in to any and every craving or temptation. Always ask whether you are really hungry and whether you really need it. Set yourself goals: If you are good for a month, then with month end shopping you may have the ice cream. You will note that by doing this, you will not feel guilty for having something, since you have deserved it. Very often you might not even have the treat, since by the time your incentive is due, you may find you do not feel like it anymore or even decide that you do not need it. Nothing beats that feeling - victory!

Never go shopping when hungry. Rather delay the shopping trip than end up in the shopping center surrounded by tempting smells and delicious looking food items. You will also save a lot more money this way, which can be allocated to that holiday and new outfit you wanted.

Faced with tempting items, we are presented with options. Whenever possible, try to have a better option than forbidden food. By this I mean that instead of having a cream puff, rather have an apple crumble. They are both high in sugar, but at least the apple crumble has no added cream. Instead of having chocolates, have a jelly sweet – again less fat! If it is a choice between a burger and a whole-wheat roll with more or less the same topping, rather have the whole-wheat roll.  You will never regret making the better choice.