Ask the Expert: Can Supplements Replace Real Food?


I do not usually eat enough veggies, fruits, or nutrients daily to meet my recommended nutrient intake (RNI). Do you think it’s wise for me to take multi-vitamins then? I’m not sure if I should take multivitamins as they have been quite controversial, but my diet is definitely not hitting my RNI.


Boosts your energy, promotes weight loss, and boosts your immune system! Do all these sound familiar to you? They probably do since these are common claims on the labels of supplements in the market. How true  is it? And how suitable is it for you? You’ll need to read further on the label and find out more from healthcare professional.

The term ‘supplement’ means adding in something to make things complete. The idea or theory of taking vitamins and minerals supplement is when we can’t get enough nutrients from our daily diet. Most people can actually get complete nutrition from their diet, if they able to practise the following:

  1. Plenty of fruit and vegetables
  2. Plenty of bread, rice, other starchy foods ( choose whole grain varieties when possible)
  3. Some milk and dairy foods
  4. Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein
  5. Just a small amount of foods high in fat and sugar

Supplements are Not Food Substitutes

Supplements can fill up the gap of nutrients for your body but it’s not a food substitute. They cannot replace whole foods and they are not the only key to good health. Do not replace your meal by popping supplement pills into your mouth from varieties of supplements. It doesn’t work that way.

Having said that, there are certain groups of people who are recommended to take supplements to prevent deficiency related complications. For example, folic acid is recommended to take up to 12 weeks of pregnancy to prevent neural tube defect. Vitamin D should be taken by all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children aged 6 months to 5 years and people aged 65 years old and above.

Read Your Supplement Bottles, Not Just the Claims

Some people also think that vitamins and supplements are safe because its 100% natural and it doesn’t interact with anything at all. That is not the case. Supplements are not 100% natural, and if you want 100% natural you’ll need to consume from whole foods and not supplements.

Supplements are not suitable for everyone and they do interact with certain medications. For example, Glucosamine interacts with warfarin, a blood thinning medication. Fish oil is good; however it has a little blood thinning effect which might not be so good when you are already on blood thinning medication like aspirin and you are quite sensitive to the blood thinning effect.

Read the label on the supplement bottles. What it claims on the bottle might not be what you think you will be getting. For example, most of the fish oil in the market comes with impressive numbers like 1,000mg or 1,200mg on the bottle. This doesn’t mean that you will get 1,000mg or 1,200mg of omega. For normal fish oil, 1000mg of fish oil only provides you with 300mg of EPA and DHA unless there is a special formulation or molecularly distilled version which gives you higher EPA and DHA.

Healthy Diet + Exercise = Good Health

For the majority of Malaysians who are constantly busy with work and dealing with traffic jams, it might seem awfully difficult to find time to prepare decent food for a well-balanced diet. It could be achievable during the weekends but not during the weekdays. In scenarios like these, having a pill containing multivitamin and minerals might be a good idea to fill up the gap of nutrients in our body while still being able to perform the best in your daily routine.

Nonetheless, the old school rules still comes into play. Practise healthy eating and exercise. Base your meal on starchy foods as these give you energy. Eat at least two portions of fish per week. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar. Eat less salt and drink at least eight glasses of water daily. Be active and healthy. If you’re unsure about anything regarding nutrition or supplements, you can always ask a healthcare professional like a nutritionist, dietitian or pharmacist to get more information.


Ask the Expert is where we answer questions on all aspects of your health and wellness. Send in your health-related questions to


Contributed by: Rachel Gan MPharm (UK), RPH, MMPS, Clinical pharmacist, proprietor of Alive Pharmacy Sdn Bhd

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