Benefits and risks of dietary supplements

Dietary supplements have both benefits and risks. The food supplements are products designed to increase your daily intake of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Many are safe and offer significant health benefits, but some pose health risks.

Dietary supplements can add missing nutrients to your diet or increase the nutrients you get from whole foods. You can take them for a variety of reasons, such as to achieve a health or fitness goal, to deal with an aversion to a nutrient-rich food, or simply to make sure you are getting adequate overall nutrition. Supplements can include products that add protein, vitamins and minerals, or calories to your diet, and all of these products have advantages and disadvantages.

Protein supplements

Protein is a macronutrient you need to consume every day to support growth, tissue maintenance and immune health. Protein supplements, available in powder, shake or bar form, add high-quality protein to your diet and can boost your protein intake on days when you don't eat enough whole food protein. They can also provide specific benefits to promote fitness. For example, whey-based supplements are rich in branched-chain amino acids, which can speed up muscle recovery after intense training. On the other hand, protein supplements can add an unnecessary expense to your budget, as whole foods can provide all the protein you need. Also, if protein consumption exceeds your body's capacity, it is not harmful if you are healthy. If it adds extra calories to your diet, you may gain unwanted weight.

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Vitamin and mineral supplements

Vitamins and minerals support a wide variety of functions in your body, and the amounts you need vary depending on your age and health. Supplements can help maintain a healthy optimal health if your dietary intake is low, whether it's because you're on a calorie-restricted diet or because you don't like to eat certain foods containing a specific nutrient. However, excessive consumption of certain vitamins or minerals can affect your well-being. Fat-soluble vitamins can build up in your fat tissue if you regularly take in more than you need; for example, too much vitamin A over time can lead to liver defects and birth defects. Overconsumption of minerals can also lead to toxicity. Too much iron, magnesium, selenium or zinc can cause digestive problems, too much calcium can lead to kidney stones, and high manganese consumption can lead to neurotoxicity.

Caloric supplements

High-calorie supplements are beneficial for certain health conditions. Cancer, for example, can lead to nutritional deficiencies due to changes in the way your body metabolizes food and a possible loss of appetite. AIDS and anorexia can also lead to body wasting. Supplements that provide a combination of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats can provide both nutrients and calories to help combat weight loss during recovery. Picky eaters, fast-growing children or extreme athletes may also benefit from calorie-rich supplements. However, in the absence of one of these conditions, consuming this type of dietary supplement may simply add extraneous calories to your diet, leading to a buildup of excess body fat.

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Barring special circumstances, whole foods are the best choice for getting the nutrients you need on a daily basis. Occasional supplements are unlikely to be harmful, but even the best of them can lack the fiber, phytochemicals and other health-protecting nutrients naturally available in a complete, varied and balanced diet.

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