Eating real food rather than taking supplements is the best way to meet your body’s nutritional needs. However, you may not be getting enough of the vitamins and minerals your body needs for a healthy pregnancy. So whether you eat a well-balanced diet or not, taking an antenatal multivitamin/mineral is a good ‘insurance policy’.
It is important to know that not all supplements are made equal – they can vary a lot in quality. The amount of active ingredient (the vitamins and minerals) can be very different in different brands. Also, 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 (see Foundations of a healthy diet: part two for more information), 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 ensure 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 end up taking more than your daily allowance because the dosage is too high.
A good quality ‘food state’ multivitamin provides nutrients in the form that they would be provided in nature. This helps our body recognise and use the nutrients most effectively.
How to choose the best quality supplements
- Avoid supplements with artificial colours and flavours. Some supplement companies add artificial colours and flavours to make them more appealing. However in reality they cause unnecessary pressure on your liver.
- Avoid fillers and binders
Supplements usually contain more than just active ingredients (vitamins and minerals). Particularly the tablets which require more processing to pack everything into a small swallowable tablet. 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 ‘excipients’ or ‘non-medical ingredients’. If there is a long list of ingredients you don’t recognise, leave it.
Bioavailability is a term used by nutritionists to explain readily the vitamins and minerals 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 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.