Pill talk: Rethinking my supplements intake

PHOTO: Pill talk: Rethinking my supplements intake

I have to reluctantly admit that I may be overdoing it with the supplements.

Despite being adamant that the diet of pills - vitamins and supplements - keeps me healthy, an analysis revealed that I may be overspending on vitamins that are not doing very much as they exceed my daily dosages.

Last year, people in Singapore spent $638 million on vitamins and dietary supplements, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

This is an increase of 5 per cent from 2012 and the number has been growing at a rate of 3 to 5 per cent over the past five years, from $519 million in 2008, the report said.

I confess to taking seven types of vitamins and supplements a day.

I take a multivitamin formulated for breastfeeding mothers, fish oil, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B, garlic tablets and fenugreek.

I swore by this regime because I thought it ensured that I would have enough nutrients to pass on to my active 15-month-old bub. I have two young children and I cannot risk falling sick.

So when the editors put me to the challenge of an analysis, I gladly took it on.

But I was put right by certified dietitian Derrick Ong of Eat Right, a nutrition consultancy firm.

For example, if I take two more cups of milk a day, I'd be taking too much calcium, as one tablet of calcium, with 600mg, is equivalent to two servings.


Mr Ong said: "Dietary calcium (like milk) is easily managed by the body. But synthetic calcium is not well absorbed and thus ends up where it is not supposed to."

Such as in the kidney, where it could cause kidney stones, he warned.

Also, if I take fruit, I can easily drop the vitamin C.

Mr Ong said: "By taking the whole fruit, you get a lot of other nutrients as well, such as antioxidants. A lot of the nutrients, such as vitamin C, are in the skin.

"We advocate eating whole fruit as nature made it, with minimal processing. With processing, straightaway, you lose nutrients."

But he gave the go ahead to continue taking fish oil, as it is "hard to fulfil the intake requirements in Singapore". Unless I take raw fish, like the Japanese, he said.

Is it all hype then?

Chief dietitian with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Ms Gladys Wong, said: "If (supplements) are so effective, they would not have been allowed to be an over-the-counter supplement, as HSA (Health Science Authorities) would have classified them as a pharmaceutical medicine), which would be available only via doctor's prescription."

Also - for those who need more persuasion to replace supplements with food - eating is a very pleasurable social activity.

Said Ms Wong: "Eating together is a social phenomenon. It would be hard to imagine a group of pill poppers gathering around the table to have a 'pill/capsule' meal."

This article was first published on Oct 7, 2014.
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