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Food supplements

Most people do not need food supplements – their diets provide all the nutrients they need. However, there are some exceptions.

Key facts

  • Most people do not need food supplements – their diets provide all the nutrients they need
  • Vitamin D and folic acid are the exceptions.
  • Don’t mix supplements with medicines without speaking to your health professional 
  • Eat a balanced diet – supplements cannot substitute for a good diet 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed for strong healthy bones. We can make vitamin D in our skin through exposure to sunlight from March to September each year. Vitamin D can also be found in certain foods – oily fish, eggs and fortified foods.

Exposure to strong sunlight is not recommended due to the risk of skin cancer. So, foods rich in vitamin D or a supplement are needed. This is particularly important in autumn and winter months.

People over 65 years of age should take a 15 microgram of vitamin D every day. You can find out more here.

Babies under a year old need a supplement providing 5 micrograms of vitamin D per day. 

Visit the HSE for more information

Young children should be given 5 micrograms of vitamin D every day from Halloween (31 October) to St Patrick’s Day (17 March).

Folic acid

All women of child-bearing age, including those taking contraception, should take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid every day.
If you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, are overweight or have a history of NTDs in your family or your partners, we suggest you speak to a medical professional for more advice. You may need to take a higher dose
All adults need 200 micrograms of folic acid a day. We can get this from foods like:

  • green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale, broccoli and cabbage
  • peas, beans and lentils including chickpeas and kidney beans
  • wholegrains including wheat bran, wholegrain rice and oats
  • foods fortified with folic acid

It isn’t possible for women of childbearing age to get an extra 400 microgrammes from their diet, so they need a supplement.
Folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body to make red blood cells and DNA. Taking folic acid can help prevent certain birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, known as neural tube defects (NTDs). One third of women are not getting enough folic acid to protect against NTDs.

For further information see the HSE website:

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