Food Supplements Explained

What are food supplements?

A food supplement is a type of food product that is sold in a small dosage form, such as a capsule, tablet or lozenge. Food supplements contain vitamins and minerals and other substances – and are designed to be consumed in addition to the normal daily diet.

What do food supplements contain?

There are tight controls on the types of ingredients that companies are permitted to include in food supplements. Food supplement companies must comply with strict European Union laws, including the Food Supplements Directive (Dir. 2006/46/EC), as well as any national laws set by EU member states.

Food supplements are permitted to contain:

Vitamins and minerals
Other substances (including botanical ingredients) with nutritional or physiological purposes – for example lutein or Omega 3
Other ingredients that are also authorised for use in foods
Approved food additives (such as colours) and flavourings

What steps should I take before using a food supplement?

Before consuming a food supplement it is recommend that you take time to inspect the product label for the following information:

The instructions for use
The recommended daily dose
The list of ingredients in the product, in case you are allergic to, or intolerant of, one or more of them
The nutrients or other substances in the product and the amount at which they are present
Any warning statements aimed at specific groups of people – for example, pregnant or breastfeeding women

It is always important to read the information provided on the label carefully and to follow the instructions for how to use the product.

If you are in any doubt about the suitability of a food supplement for you, or you have any concerns relating to a potential interaction with any medicines you are taking, always check with a health professional first.

Why should I take a food supplement?

The use of a food supplement is a personal choice. A recent survey conducted by IPSOS found that people use food supplements for many different reasons. These include maintaining overall health; maintaining the immune system; energy; gut/digestive health; skin, hair and nail health; heart health/blood pressure.

Companies must ensure that all information about a food supplement and its benefits is accurate and not misleading. This information is also regulated by both national and EU laws. For example, health claims for many ingredients may only be used if they have been approved by the European Commission after scientific review by the European Food Safety Authority.

How do I know that my food supplement is safe?

Food supplements are a type of food. This means companies making and selling them must comply with strict national and EU food legislation and procedures to guarantee their safety and quality.

In most EU countries*, food supplement companies must notify the appropriate national authority to verify that the composition of a product and its labelling comply fully with all relevant laws.

If you have any questions about a food supplement product, check the label to find the name and address of the company that manufactured or distributed it and contact them with your enquiry.

*Excluding Austria, Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden.

How are food supplements different from medicines?

Despite their appearance, food supplements should not be confused with medicines. In fact, it is prohibited for companies selling food supplements to claim that their products can prevent, cure or treat a disease. Food supplements should never be taken as a substitute for medical treatment.

How should I store my food supplements?

Always check the label to see if any specific storage conditions are recommended by the manufacturer and, if so, follow these carefully.

Food supplements must always be kept out of the reach of children.

Where can I buy food supplements?

Food supplements are available for purchase via all distribution channels, including supermarkets, health food stores, pharmacies and online.

For food supplements purchased online, always check that the product you are buying has been supplied by a reputable, trustworthy company.