Do we need mineral supplements?

Under normal circumstances, not really.

Virtually all medical authorities say that you can get enough minerals from the food that you eat — provided that you have a healthy, varied and balanced diet. That includes the recommended five daily servings of fresh fruit and vegetables.

A healthy body is naturally able to adjust its absorption of minerals to meet its requirement: if it receives more than it needs in food, it simply expels it. In the case of iron, for example, the body usually absorbs only about 6 per cent of the iron delivered by food.

Who needs mineral supplements?

Really, the only people who need to take mineral supplements are those who suffer from specific medical conditions, for instance digestive problems that make them unable to absorb the minerals in food. Anyone suffering from anaemia relating to iron-deficiency will probably be prescribed iron supplements; and for similar reasons, so too may women who suffer from heavy periods. Calcium supplements may be prescribed for post-menopausal women in danger of contracting osteoporosis (severe loss of calcium in the bones). Women in early pregnancy may be encouraged to take calcium and iron supplements.

Other people who might need to take mineral supplements include:

  • those who simply cannot be bothered to eat a healthy and balanced diet;
  • those who are unable (or unwilling) to eat more than 1200 calories a day (the recommended daily average intake — or Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) — is 2000 calories for women and 2500 calories for men);
  • vegetarians following a severely restricted diet (such as a macrobiotic or fruitarian diet);
  • smokers and big consumers of alcohol, because tobacco and alcohol interfere with the body's ability to absorb minerals.

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