They come in many shapes, sizes and colours, are easy to take, and can boost your health. But if you think these pills (minerals, vitamins, and protein), or nutritional supplements can replace a balanced diet, think again. While there is no denying the significance of these nutritional supplements in specific cases, it would be a fallacy to believe that popping a pill or downing a protein shake will save you the trouble of picking your vegetables, fruits, and meats.

Meenakshi Bajaj, medical nutrition therapist, at the Government General Hospital, says there is nothing yet that can replace a balanced diet. In some cases, she adds, such supplements will find a place in the doctor's prescription and then, they are essential.

For instance, they are useful for crucially-ill patients, for those who are on a crash diet programme to aid wound-healing, and for those with specific deficiencies. She adds that pregnant and lactating mothers, the chronically undernourished, those on nasal feeding tubes, patients with conditions that can cause mal-absorption and the elderly will derive benefits from prescribed nutritional supplements.

Sheela Nambiar, director, TFL Fitness Studio, touches on protein supplements. While a regular person requires 0.8 grams of protein per kg body weight, for someone who is training or body building it goes up to 1 – 1.5 grams.

“You can get it in your diet, provided it is extremely well balanced and you can get the protein without the fat. But for vegetarians who are also body-builders, that quantity of protein is difficult to get with just their diet,” she explains. Therefore, the protein supplements. However she cautions that if you increase protein consumption and not burn it off, it tends to settle as fat. However, there is a thing such as overdosing. While excess content is flushed out in the urine, there are other fat soluble vitamins (A, B, E, and K) that are stored in the fat and can cause damage.

Meer Mustafa Hussain, paediatrician, says such nutritional supplements always have to be monitored. For older children, where the dietary consumption is far from satisfactory, doctors recommend supplements to fill a specific deficiency.

So what is an ideal nutritive diet? Dr. Bajaj says that it would be 400-500 ml of skimmed milk, 4-5 serving of fruits, vegetables (of all colours) and whole grams along with 6 -11 of cereals; 1-2 portions of non-vegetarian food, along with plenty of fluids.


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