Diet Supplements: Everything You Need To Know

Diet supplements are everywhere. Not only pharmacies, but also discounters, drugstores and numerous online shops now offer a wide variety of preparations. The question quickly arises whether these tablets, capsules and powders make sense at all. Find out here what is important when buying nutritional supplements and what to consider when taking them. We also present the alternatives with which you may not have to resort to them in the first place.

In this article you will learn:

  • What diet supplements are
  • What types of dietary supplements are there
  • What to look for when buying
  • How to distinguish serious from dubious manufacturers
  • What to look out for when taking it
  • What alternatives are there to dietary supplements

What are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements are more popular than ever on the German market. Around 225 million packs were sold in 2018 , which corresponds to a turnover of 1.44 billion euros and the trend is rising. By definition, it is a food that is intended to supplement the general diet and is in the form of a nutrient concentrate.

Not every substance can be sold as a dietary supplement . The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) determines which substances are permitted and in what quantities they may be contained. In addition, there are also national regulations in most European countries. In no way should dietary supplements be used to treat diseases or nutritional deficiencies .

Medicines are provided for these cases. There is also a category of products that you may know as “diet foods”. From a legal point of view, these are foods that are used for a particular medically justified need, e.g. for special nutrition in the case of certain illnesses.

The difference between dietary supplements and medicinal products

In contrast to dietary supplements, pharmaceuticals require an officially granted approval. This approval also regulates whether the drug is only available for prescription, pharmacy or over-the-counter, ie whether it can also be sold outside of a pharmacy. This approval does not apply to food supplements, which means that they – like over-the-counter medicines – do not require pharmacy.

An example: A certain type of capsule with 300 mg vitamin C is approved as a drug for the treatment and prevention of vitamin C deficiency symptoms. This means that the clinical effect for the purpose of the treatment had to be proven in studies beforehand in order to obtain drug approval.

Another preparation also contains 300 mg of vitamin C, but according to its intended use it is not used to treat or prevent a deficiency, but to supply vitamin C. By definition, this is not a drug, but a dietary supplement.

Confused? You are not alone there! It is important to understand that it is not just the ingredients and their concentration that determine the status of a product, but also the intended use. Food supplements are also not intended to replace a healthy diet, they are only intended to supplement it.

Health promise

Many dietary supplements are provided with health-related statements such as “Vitamin C helps reduce tiredness and fatigue”. These statements are also strictly regulated by the EFSA and may not be chosen arbitrarily by the manufacturer .

Some ingredients such as probiotic bacteria may be contained in preparations, but the EFSA has not yet approved any statements about their effect for them. The aim of these rules is to ensure that all dietary supplements on the market are safe while not misleading consumers with false promises about their effectiveness.

What types of dietary supplements are there?

The range of nutrients and other ingredients in dietary supplements is wide. The most well-known are

– Vitamins such as vitamin C
– Minerals such as zinc, silicon, selenium and potassium
– Amino acids or protein / protein
– Essential fatty acids such as Omega 3 fatty acids
– Dietary fiber
– Plant and herbal extracts
– Other ingredients such as algae or probiotic cultures

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A detailed list of the types of dietary supplements can be found in the article “Micronutrient List”.

Probiotic food supplements

These are preparations that contain living microorganisms that are supposed to strengthen your intestinal flora. However, it has not yet been scientifically proven that taking probiotic food supplements really brings something in the sense of a dietary supplement. There are also medicines with probiotic organisms. These have been approved and are intended for the treatment of certain diseases.

Natural food supplements

The trend is increasingly in the direction that certain particularly nutrient-rich foods are dried or otherwise processed and offered as so-called natural food supplements. Well-known representatives are, for example, algae, acerola or turmeric . Often the natural extracts or concentrates simply serve as a source of certain nutrients, such as acerola extracts as a natural source of vitamin C.

Because of its health benefits, turmeric powder is offered as a natural dietary supplement in capsules.

Is a food supplement medically necessary or useful?

The question of whether it is necessary or sensible to take food supplements cannot be answered across the board, as numerous individual factors are important.

Diet, for example, plays a major role. People who follow a certain form of nutrition, such as vegans, or people who have a one-sided diet, can benefit from supplementation (supplementation) with specific nutrients. Some nutrients, such as vitamin B12, are only found in sufficiently large quantities in animal products. Strict vegans can easily meet their daily needs for this vitamin with the help of dietary supplements.

Surely you know that : the flu wave is approaching and that is why you pay attention to a healthy diet with many nutrients that support your immune system. That means you have a special need for these nutrients. But instead of eating 5 oranges a day for enough vitamin C and an extra piece of meat for the daily portion of zinc, you can easily meet your needs with an appropriate dietary supplement. However, there is no universal recommendation here, as every body is different and has individual requirements.

Vitamin B12 is almost only found in animal products. Vegetarians and vegans should therefore take a dietary supplement.

More detailed information on this topic and answers to the question of whether and when food supplements can be dangerous can be found in the article “ Food supplements useful or harmful? ”.

Who needs nutritional supplements and who doesn’t?

The targeted intake of dietary supplements can also be useful for certain groups of people .

For example, expectant mothers have an increased need for certain nutrients during pregnancy , so that supplementation with selected preparations can be useful. This is dealt with in more detail in the article “ Dietary supplements during pregnancy ”.

The question often arises whether dietary supplements can be used for depression . This is explained in our article “ Dietary Supplements for Depression ”.

If you want to lose weight and expect certain supplements to help you lose fat, you will find the answers in the article “ Dietary supplements for losing weight ”.

At the same time, you can help build muscle by taking essential amino acids and various proteins , but this only makes sense with sufficient and well-thought-out training. By taking the preparations alone, muscles will not grow and fitness will not improve if there is little physical activity.

Normally, however, the intake of food supplements is not absolutely necessary or useful . Above all, the principle “more helps more” is absolutely wrong in this case and can even lead to side effects under certain circumstances. Incidentally, this also applies to poor nutrition in general!

Dietary supplements: what do you need to look out for?

Since the selection of dietary supplements is now large, the purchase decision is often difficult. To find the right product for you, you should pay attention to the following points.


In order to be able to distinguish serious from dubious manufacturers, it is important to first pay attention to the origin of the product when buying. At best, it should have been produced in Germany or another EU country , as the quality requirements for production are particularly high here. Voluntary information on the manufacturer’s website about production processes and independent laboratory analyzes can also provide information about its seriousness.


As a rule, this information is already on the front of the packaging. For example, iron is often combined with vitamin C or other micronutrients. A look at the list of ingredients ultimately reveals exactly whether it is a monopreparation with only one active ingredient, or whether it contains additional active ingredients which, in combination, can possibly be better utilized by the body .

The keyword here is bioavailability . The larger this is, the better a substance can be absorbed by the body, and this is often the case with multipreparations. Depending on the needs, the person and the situation , combinations of certain nutrients as well as individual nutrients that are specifically supplemented can be useful.

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Other ingredients should also be checked in each preparation before buying and taking it. For example, sweeteners are often superfluous and should not be included in the preparation, as they only serve the taste, but are in no way beneficial for the body or your well-being. On the other hand, an effervescent tablet with magnesium is so bitter that it would not be ingestible without flavor-enhancing ingredients.

So it always depends on the purpose and your preference . If you have difficulty swallowing capsules and tablets, it is more convenient to supply them with a refreshing drink made from an effervescent tablet.

If you notice conspicuous terms like “titanium dioxide” while reading the list of ingredients , it is better to research what it is. Titanium dioxide is mainly used to visually enhance the product, but it is controversial in terms of health and has no place in a high-quality product.


There are reference levels for most nutrients that describe the recommended amount of a substance per day for an adult human. Every dietary supplement has a recommended daily dose and it must contain an indication of the percentage of the reference amount that is covered by this recommended dose .

As a rule, more than 100% should be avoided and in normal cases it can even be less, as a balanced diet should cover the largest portion .

If you are unsure whether the dosage of your dietary supplement is too high, you can refer to the maximum amount recommendations for vitamins and minerals of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.


It may be that certain groups of people, such as pregnant women or children, are advised against taking it, or that other important information on taking it is described. Take a close look at the packaging and, if included, the instruction leaflet. For example, pregnant women should avoid products with vitamin A, as an overdose of this vitamin can be teratogenic.

Therefore, pregnant women should prefer to use products that contain a carotene instead of vitamin A. Carotenes are precursors to vitamin A, which the body converts into the active vitamin itself as required. This will avoid overdosing.


There may be interactions when dietary supplements are taken with medication. Therefore, ask your doctor if there are any things you should consider when taking your medication and dietary supplements. A well-known example is the interaction of vitamin K and certain blood-thinning drugs.

What should you pay attention to when taking it?

Since food supplements are foods, you have to pay attention to the same things as with “normal” foods.

  • For example, certain medications should not be taken at the same time as meals or certain nutrients. So pay attention to information about your medication, if you are taking any.
  • Interactions can occur between many substances. The effectiveness of a drug can both be increased and limited by the additional intake of food supplements.

When you start taking a new dietary supplement, watch out for possible changes in your digestion or other aspects over the next few days and weeks .

  • For example, certain dietary fibers or minerals can lead to changes in your bowel movements. For example, it is known that magnesium often leads to softer stools.
  • Depending on the ingredient contained, such possible effects must be pointed out on the packaging.
  • Especially in the case of an overdose, but in individual cases also with a recommended intake, the preparation may not be well tolerated .
  • Typical side effects are diarrhea, gas, constipation, or nausea. In addition, other symptoms can occur. If this is the case for you, it is best to stop or reduce the intake, or alternatively speak to a doctor about the side effects.

How do you find out if a dietary supplement is right for you?

Once you have clarified all of the above and know when and how to take your dietary supplement, you can start taking it. In the following hours and days, pay close attention to signals from your body and whether you notice positive or negative changes.

However , in certain cases, for example when taking a dietary supplement for skin or hair , the desired effect can only be seen after several months of use.

Dietary supplements are only intended as a supplement and cannot replace a balanced diet with healthy foods.

If you have the feeling that you tolerate the dietary supplement well and that it is good for you, then you have found the right product for you.

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If, on the other hand, you notice effects that are noticeable within a few minutes up to a day after ingestion, then you should either reduce the dosage or stop taking it completely. If you are feeling very bad, ask your doctor for advice .

What are the alternatives?

In many cases you can achieve a lot with little tricks and changes in diet and certain behaviors without having to help with food supplements. A healthy, active lifestyle helps in many cases to go through everyday life in a fit and healthy manner, even without preparations .

What can you do to eat healthier food?

First of all, you should be aware that a balanced diet lays the foundation for a well-covered nutritional profile.

  • Eat as diverse a diet as possible and use natural products such as fresh fruit and especially vegetables in all possible colors. In this way you consume numerous vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and secondary plant substances, which, unlike some tablets , can be absorbed very well by the body .
  • At the same time, finished products and foods that have been heavily treated and therefore have long lists of ingredients should, in the best case, not even come into the house.
  • Avoid sugar wherever possible and avoid simple carbohydrates such as wheat rolls or pasta as far as possible.
  • Instead, incorporate complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and enough vegetables into your diet. As a result, you automatically integrate enough fiber, which is good not only for your digestion, but also for your intestinal flora.
  • If the bacteria in your intestines are doing well, you will also notice this in your well-being. Conversely, poor intestinal flora is often associated with malaise and other symptoms. If you want to read more about it, we recommend the article “ How gut bacteria affect your health ”.
  • In addition to the micronutrients, a sufficient intake of proteins (meat, fish, legumes, tofu) and good fats (oily fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil) is important.

What other influence can you have on your inner well-being?

There are a few more relevant aspects that play a huge role in terms of our mental and physical wellbeing.


Intermittent fasting has now gained great recognition in many parts of the world . Here you forego the intake of food and beverages containing calories for a certain number of hours. By giving your body longer food breaks, important processes can be regulated that otherwise cannot take place due to digestion and fluctuations in blood sugar.

As a result, intermittent fasting has been shown to have many positive effects on health , making most people feel fitter and healthier. You can find more about this exciting topic and everything you need to consider in this article on intermittent fasting .


In addition to proper nutrition and good timing of eating, exercise also plays an essential role in our well-being and health. Therefore, you should exercise or be otherwise physically active on a daily basis.

If you don’t feel like exercising at all or if your schedule just doesn’t allow it, then we have in our article “ How do you get over it ? There is also an easier way! “Simple tricks put together on how you can integrate more exercise into your everyday life even without exercising.


Unfortunately, many people are not even aware of the enormous importance of deep, restful sleep . During sleep, numerous repair processes take place in the cells and the body regenerates. Those who sleep too little or suffer from insomnia will sooner or later feel this in their daily life.

It is therefore important to take this issue seriously and strive for good quality sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, there are several home remedies that can help you too .

Diet Supplements – To Take Or Not?

As you should know by now, dietary supplements are a concentrate of certain nutrients that can be taken in addition to diet , but that does not mean that they are always useful.

Many people think that taking multivitamin supplements is good for themselves. This is often not the case, as you could already get enough of these vitamins and minerals through a healthy and balanced diet . On the contrary, too much of certain micronutrients can even be harmful .

So a healthy diet comes first. It should consist of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other unprocessed foods. Vegetables and whole grain products in particular provide valuable fiber that is good for the intestines and thus has a direct impact on wellbeing. By the way, eating in front of the TV or while working is not advisable . You can find out how to eat mindfully in this article .

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