Is there any benefit from taking supplements of Vitamin C and Zinc to avoid catching colds, which tend to be more common in the chilly winter months, or even to reduce the severity of symptoms? The evidence is very mixed on whether there is any benefit, or indeed whether the benefit is enough to outweigh the potential risks of large doses of these nutrients.
Nutrients from food
Whilst everyone should take any supplements recommended to them by their doctor, for most of us the best way to boost intake of these nutrients is through eating more of the foods that are good sources. This is because of all the extra benefits that whole foods provide, for example:
- if you increase your Vitamin C intake by eating an orange, you also get potassium, folate, calcium, beta carotene and fibre. Oranges also contain amazing bioactive plant compounds called flavonoids, such as hesperidin, which may reduce blood pressure, and naringenin, which may help improve blood vessel health;
- if you increase your zinc intake by eating more pepitas, you also get magnesium, fibre and essential fatty acids. These have beneficial effects for heart health.
Another benefit of getting nutrients from food sources rather than from supplements, if possible, is the benefits that come from ‘food synergy’. This is the concept that nutrients in food can work better when eaten together with the other nutrients in that food, rather than when separated into a supplement. Why might this be? Well it may be that because the nutrients in an orange are combined in a way that optimise the health of the orange plant, they may well work better together for the health of the orange eater.
Either way, it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to get more of a wide range of these delicious foods into our diets.
Good sources of Vitamin C:
Fruits including citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and lemon, kiwi fruit, blackcurrants, strawberries and guava. Vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cooked kale, Brussels sprouts and Chinese cabbage.
Good sources of Zinc:
Shellfish, meat, legumes like lentils/beans/chickpeas,nuts, seeds and whole grains.
The bottom line
So while for some people a supplement is necessary to achieve adequate intake of a range of nutrients, for most of us the best way to make sure we get plenty of these nutrients is from a varied and healthy diet.
Pro Nutrition SA Catrin Daly, Dietitian