By Cathy Monaghan RD MINDI Paediatric Dietitian.

 

With the arrival of Autumn there has been an exponential increase of the number of people recommending nutritional supplements on social media. In my opinion we tend to forget about the impact of this mass supplementation.

The environmental impact of nutritional supplements can vary widely depending on several factors, including the source of the ingredients, the manufacturing processes involved, and the packaging used. 

As a Registered Dietitian I am concerned with the mass supplementation of the general public. Supplements should only be recommended on an individual basis. Food that is in season and locally sourced should always be the first choice. And while those promoting mass supplementation are also advocating a reduction in the consumption of processed foods – one has to wonder, do nutritional supplements not also fall into the processed foods category? 

‘Processed food refers to any food item that has been altered from its natural state through various industrial or culinary methods. These alterations can involve cooking, preservation, packaging, adding additives or preservatives, or altering its form to enhance flavor, texture, appearance, or shelf life’.

In most cases the worst a supplement can do, is, do nothing. Our bodies are clever – if we don’t need something we excrete it. 

 

Read on as I explore some key considerations for understanding the environmental impact of nutritional supplements:

Wasteful Consumption:

    • Overconsumption or the use of unnecessary supplements can contribute to environmental waste. It is important to avoid excess or unnecessary supplementation.

      Ingredient Sourcing:

    • Plant-based supplements: Nutritional supplements derived from plants, such as herbs or botanicals, generally have a lower environmental impact compared to animal-derived supplements. Plant cultivation typically requires fewer resources and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

    • Animal-based supplements: Supplements that contain animal-derived ingredients, such as fish oil or collagen, can have a higher environmental impact, particularly if the sourcing involves overfishing or unsustainable farming practices.

      Sustainable Sourcing:

    • Supplements sourced from sustainably managed fisheries, organic farming, or ethical practices are more environmentally friendly. Look for certifications like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) for fish-based supplements or USDA Organic for plant-based supplements.

      Manufacturing Process:

    • The manufacturing of supplements can consume energy and generate waste. Companies that prioritise energy efficiency and waste reduction in their production processes tend to have a lower environmental impact.

    • Consider supplements made using environmentally friendly manufacturing methods, such as those that use renewable energy or implement closed-loop systems to minimize waste.

      Packaging:

    • The packaging of nutritional supplements can contribute to environmental impact. Excessive use of plastic or non-recyclable materials can be detrimental.

    • Look for supplements that use eco-friendly packaging, such as glass containers, recyclable materials, or minimal packaging.

      Transportation:

    • The transportation of raw ingredients and finished products can result in emissions. Locally sourced supplements may have a smaller carbon footprint than those imported from distant locations.

      Single-Use Supplements:

    • Some supplements, like single-dose packets or blister packs, generate more waste than traditional bottles. Choosing bulk containers or larger sizes can help reduce packaging waste.

      Certification:

    • Look for third-party certifications that indicate a company’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. Examples include B Corp certification or Fair Trade certification.

      Recycling and Disposal:

    • Properly dispose of supplement containers and packaging in accordance with local recycling guidelines to minimize environmental impact.

Overall, the environmental impact of nutritional supplements can vary widely. As parents we can make more environmentally conscious choices by researching and selecting products from companies that prioritise sustainability in ingredient sourcing, manufacturing, and packaging. Additionally, consulting with one of our Registered Dietitians before starting your child on any supplementation regimen can help ensure that supplements are used effectively and responsibly.

If you would like to learn more why not invest in a 1:1 consultation and see how food can help first.

You may be entitled to a 30-50% refund on health insurance if applicable, please check your policy.