Food supplements 101: Part 1

In the post-lockdown world consumers have increasingly turned to supplementation and the food supplements market is blooming more than ever. The global market has in fact been thriving for decades now and it is consequently saturated with products that promise good health, wellbeing and beauty. They sell everywhere – from postal offices to online shops and grocery stores.

As a result of their pervasiveness, consumers are rightfully so confused. Which products should they use? Which products do they actually need? Which brands are the best?

In the next few articles, we will therefore devote some notes to clarifying questions, facts and doubts about nutritional supplements. So, let’s start with the basics.

What are food supplements?

Food – also dietary or nutritional – supplements are products, designed to consume orally and defined as concentrated sources of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect. They are intended to:

  1. supplement one’s diet with nutrients that might be missing from their diet,
  2. correct nutritional deficiencies, caused by inadequate intake or seasonal deficiency,
  3. maintain an adequate intake of certain nutrients,
  4. reinforce the nutrient supply to your body,
  5. support specific physiological functions.

Food supplements can be vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, herbal extracts and many other substances, delivered in the form of pills, tablets, capsules, syrups and oral sprays. Their nutritional or physiological effects are marketed in “dose” form, which means their daily consumption is limited.

They should not be used as a substitute for a varied and healthy diet, but are however, widely used by individuals who are unable to meet their nutritional requirements through diet alone.

Difference between medicines and supplements

At first glance, supplements and medicines are very similar. The packaging, form, dosage and sometimes even the composition may be very similar, yet the two are not interchangeable.

Supplements are simply an extension to one’s diet and as such cannot exert a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action. Therefore, they are not considered medicines and their use is not intended to treat or prevent diseases in humans or to modify physiological functions.

Limitations and features of food supplements:

  1. It should be clearly stated that the product is food supplement.
  2. It should only be recommended to healthy individuals.
  3. It should only be used to deliver nutrients which may not be consumed in sufficient amounts.
  4. They attribute to one’s health, but does not have a medical effect and does not treat any medical conditions.
  5. In marketing, communication with consumers is fairly limited.

The line between drugs and supplements is, however, often blurred. Both can contain the same ingredients (vitamin D3, iron); in these cases, supplements can be a very good alternative to prescription drugs.

Read more about intended use of nutritional supplements in the next post.

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