Health assessment of food supplements

Food supplements are foods that

  • are intended to supplement a general diet;

  • consist of a concentrate of nutrients or other substances with nutritional or physiological action (e.g. vitamins, minerals including trace elements, amino acids, fibre, plants or herb extracts) on their own or as a combination;

  • are placed on the market in doses, particularly as capsules, powder sachets and other non-typical forms of administration of foods for consumption in small, measured amounts.

For health reasons supplements must carry information about recommended daily intake.

Food supplements are not medicinal products

In contrast to medicinal products, food supplements may not have any side-effects and must be safe like all other foods. Unlike medicinal products they do not have to be registered with the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). The Länder are responsible for monitoring the food supplements on sale in the shops, and the manufacturing plants.

The provisions of the Food and Feed Code (LFGB) and the Ordinance on Food Supplements apply to food supplements. There are currently no binding maximum levels for the ingredients (nutrients or other substances with nutritional or physiological action) of supplements on either the national or the European level. An EU-wide regulation on valid maximum levels for vitamins and minerals is in the process of being elaborated.

Are food supplements necessary?

In principle, food supplements are superfluous for healthy individuals on a normal diet. In a balanced diet the body has all the nutrients it needs. Normally, the additional intake of individual nutrients is not, therefore, necessary. A one-sided, imbalanced diet cannot be corrected by taking food supplements.

In some situations targeted supplementation with individual nutrients may make sense.

BfR task in conjunction with food supplements

Within the framework of its remit to ensure consumer health protection, BfR assesses food supplements that deviate from the statutory provisions in the Food and Feed Code. It advises the federal government and the Länder on questions pertaining to the safety of food supplements.

Further information on food supplements can be accessed in the BfR FAQs about food supplements.

Opinion 15

Publikationen - BfR-Wissenschaft 1

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