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There are some people that will be prescribed supplements, for example iron for iron deficiency anaemia. Some people choose to take other supplements because they believe they will benefit their health but there is not enough strong evidence that currently supports their use.
If you do decide to take supplements, it’s important to remember that supplements will not replace a balanced diet! It is also important to remember that taken in excess, supplements may be harmful.
For example according to some research, having more than an average of 1.5mg a day of vitamin A over many years may affect your bones, making them more likely to fracture. As a precaution, it may be advisable for people at increased risk of osteoporosis, such as postmenopausal women and older people, not to consume vitamin A at intakes greater than 1500 µg/day. This could be achieved by ensuring that supplements containing vitamin A are limited (including those containing fish liver oil), particularly in liver consumers as liver and its products like pate are particularly high in vitamin A.
'Functional food’ is a term used to describe a food modified in some way that may provide health benefits over and above the nutritional value of the food. For example, plant stanols and sterols found in some fat spreads and dairy products can help lower cholesterol.
Fortified foods can play a role in a healthy diet. For example, fortified soya drinks can be fortified with calcium, which is important for those who do not consume dairy products, the major source of calcium in the UK diet. As vitamin B12 is predominantly found in foods of animal origin, fortified foods are an important source of vitamin B12 for vegans.
Fat spreads are important sources of vitamins A and D in the UK diet because of voluntary fortification. White and brown flour (not wholemeal) are also fortified by law with iron, calcium thiamin and niacin.