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Nutrition Supplements - do we need them?

Author: Ivy Chua APD

Do dietary supplements actually help? What do you actually need?

I have encountered many people asking for recommendations on dietary supplements. What I would say is if you are missing out certain food groups in your diet, having regular multivitamin can compensate the deficiency. For elderly, a standard vitamin and mineral are recommended since they may have more difficulty in absorbing the nutrients from food. I personally do not take any supplements. A balanced diet including all food groups can provide you enough vitamins and minerals for reach your daily requirements. There are also other benefits from eating foods such as dietary fibre, which mosf of the population do not have enough of.

Then you may ask “who may need those vitamins and supplements?”

Pregnant women:

Women who are planning pregnancy are recommended to take folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects. Pregnant women also have a higher risk of iron deficiency, which is diagnosed with the blood test. Iron supplement is recommended in this case.

Vegetarian/vegan/people with special dietary restrictions:

Vegan or vegetarians may benefit from taking vitamin B12 supplements since animal products are the main source of vitamin B12. People with restrictive diet due to poor appetite need multivitamin or multimineral to reduce the risk of malnutrition. Rather than taking the supplements, fortified breakfast cereals, low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese and eggs are also good vitamin B12 food sources.


Parents should strive for a balanced diet to make sure their children meet the daily nutrients requirements. Children who have poor appetite or with medical conditions that interfere their nutrients intake or absorption may also need dietary supplements. Vitamin D plays a role in calcium absorption, which helps bones and teeth growth. Our body produces vitamin D from sunlight exposure and we can also attain vitamin D from dairy, eggs and fish oil. Vitamin A can be found from most of the orange vegetables, milk, eggs and cheese. It is essential for growth, immunity and repair. Always consult the health provider before giving any dietary supplements to your children.


Vitamin B12 is not as well absorbed in the elderly. Vitamin B12 essential for regulating body metabolism. Therefore, make sure you are having vitamin B12 rich food including animal products or fortified food like cereals. If not, consult the doctor or the dietitian to see if you need any supplements.

As many people may know, calcium plays a big role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, and it’s important for osteoporosis prevention. For people over 50 years old, they should aim to have around 1200mg of calcium a day. You can actually easily get this from your food by aiming for 2-3 servings of milk and dairy alternatives a day. One serve of dairy can be a glass of cow milk or fortified milk beverage or 1 and a half of cheese strings.

What about vitamin D?

Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium. Studies show that for elderly, having 1000 to 2000 IU of vitamin D a day is associated with decreased risk of falls and fractures. Ensure around 10-30 minutes of sunlight exposure can provide you vitamin D. Also, having fish including salmon and canned tuna 2-3 times a week and fortified vitamin D milk can provide you vitamin D in your diet.

***The elderly has an increased risk of vitamin D deficiency. People over 50 years old are recommended to take vitamin D supplements. Taking a supplement containing 1000 to 2000 IU of vitamin D is safe for older adults.

Vitamin C, zinc – cold remedy?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that supports growth, immune function, iron absorption and healthy skin. An average man and women need around 90 mg and 75mg of vitamin C per day respectively. An orange, one and a half of kiwi, a cup of strawberries and chopped red pepper provide enough vitamin C for the day. For adults, the upper limit of vitamin C that will likely to pose no risk is 2000mg per day. High dose of vitamin C may lead to increased risk of having kidney stone, nausea and diarrhoea.

A research showed that taking at least 200mg of vitamin C daily reduces the duration of cold symptoms by an average of 8% in adults and 14% in children. However, for general population, taking daily vitamin C supplements did not reduce the risk of getting a cold.

List of vitamin C rich foods:

  1. Guava

  2. Peppers

  3. Raw tomatoes

  4. Broccoli

  5. Grapefruits

  6. Kiwi

  7. Strawberries

  8. Orange

*Prolonged storage and cooking destroyed the Vitamin C in the food. Steaming is the best way to eliminate the losses of nutrients.

Zinc is essential mineral for growth and repair, healthy vision and immune system. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and may help shorten the duration of a cold. Zinc deficiency is not common since you can easily find zinc rich food, which includes shellfish, baked beans, dairy, nuts and dark meat.

Tips to prevent colds and flu:

  • Protein, vitamins and minerals are important for healthy immune system so eat food from five food groups to get adequate nutrients.

  • Have food that is high in antioxidant including tea and juices, citrus fruits and fresh vegetables.

  • Stay active to help your immune system stay strong.

  • Stress can weaken your immune system so find some ways for yourself to reduce your stress.

Overall, food should always be your first source of nutrients. Having a balanced diet including dairy and dairy alternatives, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein food including poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and legumes can also save your money from supplements. If you do not have any nutrients deficiency, excess consumption of supplements is associated with some potential health risk. It’s really important to let the doctors aware of what supplements you are actually taking and have a dietitian to evaluate your diet.


Hemilä, H. and Chalker, E. (2013). Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Recommendations Abstracted from the American Geriatrics Society Consensus Statement on Vitamin D for Prevention of Falls and Their Consequences. (2013). Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62(1), pp.147-152.

Meehan, M. and Penckofer, S. (2014). The Role of Vitamin D in the Aging Adult. Journal of Aging and Gerontology, 2(2), pp.60-71.

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