Visit any supermarket, chemist or health food store and you'll see a confusingly large range of multi-vitamin products. Resist being confused and resist being them altogether -- research by CHOICE suggests that many Australians pointlessly purchase vitamins and don't understand the effects or dosage requirements of those they do take.
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It shouldn't be news to anyone that if you have a balanced diet, you don't need supplements. Only 37 per cent of Australians regularly purchase vitamins, Roy Morgan Research commissioned by CHOICE suggests, but that still leaves millions of us buying them even though we're often not clear on what those pills contain and why they need it.
Confusing strategies used by vitamin manufacturers highlighted by CHOICE include:
- Using a mixture of vitamin names and chemical names (such as Vitamin B3 and niacin, both of which are the same thing).
- Varying packaging with identical ingredients (a common strategy with products aimed at children).
- Multiple brands from the same manufacturer (Swisse produces 16 different lines, Nature's Way produces 11, and Blackmores and Nature's Own have eight lines).
CHOICE's research suggests the typical Australian vitamin consumer can spend between 20 cents to 70 cents a day on their habit, money which could be better deployed elsewhere in many cases. As CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just put it: "If you have a healthy diet and you’re not a person with specific nutritional requirements, there’s a good chance you’re wasting your money."
Examples where supplements can make sense can include Vitamin D if you lack sun exposure, B12 if you are on a strict vegan diet, and folate if you're pregnant and trying to conceive. However, most of us don't fall into any of these categories. The Department of Health and Ageing offers a comprehensive guide to food sources for the vitamins you need.