We all want to do everything we can to ward off the dreaded coronavirus but popping vitamin C and zinc tablets may not be the way forwards…
If you were banking on eating your way to a coronavirus-proof body, you may be slightly dismayed to hear that food doesn’t really work like that. Sure, there are vitamin-rich fruits and veg that may help to support your body but by and large, this idea of “boosting immune systems” with food is a bit of a marketing ploy.
But what about supplements? Supplements take away all the extra stuff so we’re just left with the raw, concentrated vitamins and minerals. Perhaps they can give our tired immune systems a little extra support by virtue of the sheer concentration of goodness?
According to Ruth Tongue, nutritionist, sports scientist and director of Elevate your Health, supplements don’t really help at all unless you’ve got an actual deficiency.
“There’s little evidence to show that supplements work for everyone to support immune systems – though if you’re someone who is definitely not having a balanced diet they may help.”
She also says that too much of one vitamin could have a harmful effect.
“We do know that high strength vitamin C, when taken at the start of a cold, can reduce the length of the cold, but apart from that there’s little positive evidence to suggest supplementing.”
Perhaps you’ve already seen people advocating taking things like vitamin C and zinc to fight infection, but registered nutritionist Saadia Noorani told us that “there is no strong body of evidence to say supplementation offers protection. Plus, we still don’t know enough about Covid-19 to say what works and what doesn’t.”
“If you are eating a healthy balanced diet then you don’t need a supplement and extra supplementation won’t offer you protection. It is always better to eat foods rather than take supplements. Most of the population can meet their nutrient requirements by eating a healthy balanced diet. (The exception, is of course, if you are deficient in a particular nutrient or are a risk group e.g pregnancy and have been prescribed to take a supplement by your GP or dietitian).
The only supplement both nutritionists recommend taking is vitamin D over the winter months (which is also the only supplement that the NHS recommends for everyone). Vegans may want to top up their vitamin B12 reserves as it’s hard to get enough in their diet alone and if you’re taking antibiotics, taking a daily probiotic may help to maintain the balance of bacteria in your gut – preventing stomach issues.
If you know you’re not getting a varied, balanced diet right now and you’re not in a position to do much about it then you may want to think about taking a multivitamin. But for everything else, unless you’ve been tested and found to be lacking in something, there’s not much need to supplement.
While all of the professionals we spoke to agree that we should all be taking a food-first approach to nutrition and that the only supplement we all need is vitamin D, some are slightly more open to the idea that supplements can support our systems.
“Your immune system is a complex network of cells that are constantly working to protect you from harmful microbes and toxins. It needs a whole host of nutrients in order to do that effectively,” claims Nicki Williams, nutritionist and founder of Happy Hormones for Life.
“We can get a lot from food, but we often need to supplement for lots of reasons, including poor diets, poor gut health, stress, medications, climate, etc.”
While Nicki promotes eating real food to reduce inflammation, she acknowledges that it’s not always possible for people to get all the vitamins they need from diet alone.