If you’ve been downing supplements as insurance against an unhealthy diet, it might be time to rethink what you’re swallowing. That’s according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Multivitamins, calcium and vitamins C and D – the most common supplements – do nothing toprevent cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death, according to a systematic review conducted at the University of Toronto.
Lead author Dr David Jenkins said the results surprised researchers.
“Perhaps there may still be advantages for other health indications, but we only looked at cardiovascular disease indications,” he said.
The team also looked at death from all causes, to make sure they didn’t miss any major benefit or harm.
Some supplements do more harm than good
The biggest risk with these common supplements might be that you are wasting your money. But in the case of niacin (vitamin B3) and antioxidants, the team found some evidence they could actually increase the risk of death from any cause.
Professor Clare Collins, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians’ Association of Australia, said supplements might overwhelm the body because of the large doses in each pill or liquid capsule.
Whole foods, on the other hand, provided a range of metabolic benefits by releasing small amounts of nutrients.
“When you take the nutrients out of the food, you lose all the other goodies that it’s packed up with in nature,” she said.
“Bombard it with a mega dose [and] you actually change the metabolism – and sometimes you change it for harm.”
The study wasn’t all bad news for supplements, though. Folic acid and B vitamins with folic acid were found to possibly reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Varied, plant-based diet better than supplements
Despite the benefits of some supplements, Professor Collins said the body recognised when you were trying to “hide” behind a bottle of supplements.
She recommended spending money on fresh fruit and vegetables, rather than supplements.
Dr Jenkins agreed, adding: “a varied, plant-based diet with fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, legumes (peas, beans and lentils), nuts and seeds, will give you ample amounts of most of the vitamins and minerals”.
Professor Collins recommended buying different fruits and vegetables: “That way, you’re adding nature’s superfoods to your family’s meals every week.”
They don’t even have to be fresh – frozen or low-salt canned varieties are fine, she said.
Healthy winter recipes
Start by frying onion and garlic before adding a litre of low-salt stock, then “looking in your fridge and adding every vegetable you can find”, Professor Collins said.
“Believe it or not, all green vegetables make an amazing soup,” she said.
Try broccoli, frozen peas, spinach or kale, zucchinis, and even the wilting celery from the bottom of your fridge.
“Put them all in there and they make a really hearty meal.”
With a piece of wholegrain toast, this makes an easy dinner or work lunch.
For a nutritious red soup, add tomatoes, roasted capsicum and roasted carrots. Spice up the flavour with fresh chillies or chilli paste.
Winter pumpkin or sweet potato makes a hearty yellow soup. Experiment with adding warm Indian spices such as cumin, coriander and turmeric.
Hearty winter warmers
Other winter staples are lentils, which can be added wherever browned mince is used, such as in shepherd’s pie or rissoles.
Even old-fashioned baked beans are fine, especially if you combine them with grated carrot or zucchini.
Cauliflower comes into its own in winter, as do lemons, limes, oranges and mandarins.
For a delicious warm dessert, simmer up some plums or prunes with a cinnamon stick, or use apples and pears to make crumble with a rolled oat topping.
(While these foods will work for most people, consult a dietitian for advice to suit your specific needs.)