Food supplements: sense or nonsense?

Our country is reknowned for its rich culinary culture, and many Belgians are active in one of Belgium's many food production companies. But apart from gastronomic qualities, consumers are attaching more and more importance to the supplementation of their daily meals with healthy nutrients.

NAREDI subscribes to the vision that man can play a more active role in the maintenance of his health. The role of dietary supplements in nutritional and health-related aspects has meanwhile also been acknowledged by the National Food and Health Plan for Belgium 2005 - 2010. NAREDI, alongside the governments other interlocutors, has contributed to the creation of this plan.

Extracts from the National Food and Health Plan for Belgium 2005-2010

Many components derived from daily food are essential to the optimal functioning of the organism. Micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements, are indispensable to the normal functioning of the human body. Obvious insufficiency may be manifested in deficiency phenomena that may lead to death in the short or long term. The consequences of suboptimal intake are, however, often apparently imperceptible. Furthermore, food contains many other elements, which, although they do not necessarily lead to serious malfunctions in the event of deficiency, play an essential role nevertheless in the proper functioning of the organism and the prevention of certain chronic diseases. Such components include, inter alia, dietary fibre, pre- and probiotics, antioxidants, plant substances, etc.

There is no recent and reliable information available on the consumption of micronutrients amongst the Belgian population for most micronutrients or other substances. The results of a national survey on food consumption offer only a limited estimate of the consumption of these nutrients. But there is practically no information available devoted specifically to particular population groups, like babies and children, pregnant women, or elderly people.

Nevertheless, nutrition experts agree on the fact that despite the abundance of foods available, some problems, meriting additional attention within the framework of the NFHP-B, can be identified. These problems are linked mainly to a deficiency or suboptimal intake of:

  • iodine, via diet, in the general population;
  • iron and folic acid amongst pregnant women;
  • iron, calcium and vitamin D amongst babies, young children and adolescents;
  • calcium and vitamin D amongst elderly people;
  • vitamins, minerals and other substances amongst the general population and certain specific groups of the population as a result of a monotonous, insufficiently varied or inadequate diet.

Research into the commercialization of “new” nutrients is vital

Our food also contains numerous other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect that can affect our health. These include, among others, substances with an antioxydant function such as isoflavones, polyfenols, flavonoïds, lutein, lycopene, ..., substances with an effect on certain risk factors such as phytosterols from soy, and substances that stimulate a well-balanced intestinal flora such as probiotics and prebiotic nutritional fiber.

The effects of such food components are the subject of numerous new research projects that the food industry (among which NAREDI) consider important for the introduction of new foodstuffs with functional qualities onto the market.