Eating real food is usually the best way to meet your body’s nutritional needs, rather than taking supplements. However, you may not be getting enough of the vitamins and minerals your body needs for a healthy pregnancy. So, even if you do eat a well-balanced diet, taking an antenatal multivitamin/mineral is a good ‘insurance policy’.
However, it is important to know that not all supplements are made equal – the quality can vary a lot! Firstly, the bits you need – the vitamins and minerals – are known as the ‘active ingredients’, and the active ingredient levels in supplements can vary considerably between brands.
Secondly, the way a supplement is made can make a dramatic difference to how well the nutrients are absorbed and used by your body. Some minerals and vitamins need to be taken together to get any real benefit, and yet some companies separate the vitamins and minerals into single supplements. This can cause different problems:
- The supplements don’t have the right combination of minerals and vitamins to make sure they are properly absorbed into your body. For example, Iron doesn’t absorb well into the body alone, but works better if taken with vitamin C
- You can end up taking more than your daily allowance because the dosage is too high
See Foundations of a healthy diet: part two for more information about how the nutrients work together.
A good quality ‘food state’ multivitamin provides you with nutrients in the same form they would take in nature. This helps your body recognise and use the nutrients most effectively.
How to choose the best quality supplements
1.Avoid supplements with artificial colours and flavours
Some supplement companies add artificial colours and flavours to make them more appealing. There is no health benefit to you – in fact, they can put unnecessary pressure on your liver!
2.Avoid fillers and binders
Supplements usually contain more than just the active ingredients (vitamins and minerals). This is especially true when the tablets which require more processing to pack everything into a small tablet than can be easily swallowed.
Cheaper supplements sometimes contain fillers and additives that may do more harm to your health than any nutritional benefit the pill can supply. Always check the label for its ‘non-medical ingredients’, if there is a long list of ingredients you don’t recognise, leave it and choose another!
Bioavailability is a term used by nutritionists to explain how much of the vitamins and minerals you take are absorbed into your body. Nutrients come in different forms, some of which are more easily absorbed and useful to the body than others. Often the least bioavailable forms – or the supplements where the vitamins and minerals are not easily absorbed by your body (so not very beneficial) – are the cheapest, and therefore favoured by poor quality supplement companies.
For example, magnesium can be found as magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium succinate, and magnesium chelate. Each of these forms have the same major flaw, they are never found this way in nature. So how effectively can our bodies can break them down and use them? Since you would need a degree in nutrition to know all the nutrients ‘most bioavailable forms’ it is worth speaking to a Nutritional Therapist if you can. Also try to buy your supplements from reputable health food stores.
Information provided by Bump and Beyond Nutrition