home News Eat & Move with Derval O'Rourke: All about supplements – Irish Examiner

Eat & Move with Derval O'Rourke: All about supplements – Irish Examiner

This week I’m chatting all about supplements. For my recipe, it’s my mini-breakfast pancakes plus a delicious guacamole recipe.

I often get asked about supplements. Are they necessary for a healthy, energetic life? Or are they just a waste of money?

My belief is supplements can be beneficial to a consistently good-quality diet. They are not a replacement for good food, no supplement will erase a poor diet. 

Derval works with nutritional scientist Aishling O’Hea – this week they get to grips with the best winter supplements.

However, they do have their place and this is a good time of year to consider them.

Before you consider a supplement, make sure you have the basics covered. Focus on getting enough sleep, rest and recovery. 

Make sure to exercise and adequately manage your stress levels.

If you have a solid nutrition foundation in place but still feel like you are lacking then I would suggest getting a full blood panel done to identify any potential deficiencies. 

Common things that pop up include B12 deficiency in plant-based eaters, iron deficiency in women and vitamin D deficiency in winter. 

I get mine done twice a year and based on the results, your doctor, pharmacist or dietician can advise you on the next best step for you.

Choosing a supplement is tough. There is so much information out there. This is how I choose mine:

  • Review the evidence for their use and effectiveness. Examine.com is a great resource.
  • Choose trusted brands. Labdoor.com is helpful.
  • Discuss with a healthcare professional. They will be aware of interactions with medications and the importance of few ingredients.

There are a huge number of supplements available on the market. I have narrowed them down to the ones I find to be most beneficial.

Multi vitamin and mineral:

This can be used to fill in any nutrient gaps in your diet and to correct some basic nutritional deficiencies. 

Revive Active is a brand I’ve heard positive reviews about and they are produced in Ireland. 

Be conscious of taking products with extremely high doses of nutrients.

Omega 3:

Our bodies cannot produce these essential fatty acids, we must rely on food and supplements to meet our requirements. 

The two most important ones are eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), found in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herring.

The third, alphalinoleic acid (ALA), is found in flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts but needs to be converted to EPA and DHA by the body before it can be utilised. 

Unfortunately, this conversion is highly inefficient so if you are not consuming at least two portions of oily fish a week, taking a supplement may be a good idea. 

The guidelines aim for a fish oil containing 1-3g combined EPA + DHA or if you are vegan a product derived from algae with 500-1,000mg combined EPA and DHA per day.

Discuss with a medical practitioner if you are taking blood thinning medications and aim for fish oils over cod liver oil, especially if you are pregnant as it can contain a high concentration of vitamin A.

Protein powder supplement:

These can be helpful for those of us who struggle to get enough protein from ‘real’ foods, for example plant based eaters. 

They can be convenient and a portable option post workout. 

I tend to save protein powders for the times I am training hard and feel I need an extra recovery boost or for the days I am on the go and can’t get home to make a proper meal post workout. 

Protein is important for health but supplements are not essential, they are very convenient though. 

The general guidelines of 0.8g-1.2/kg/day can easily be met from a balanced diet. 

If like me you are eating some eggs or yoghurt for breakfast and some meat, fish, beans, pulses or tofu at both lunch and dinner, you’ve got nothing to be concerned about.


I have added these to the list because there’s enough evidence to support their use in digestive health. Gut health is incredibly important. 

I would suggest 3-5 billion CFU as starting dose and aim for a broad spectrum probiotic like Optibac or Biokult. 

Foods naturally rich in good bacteria include natural yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables like kimchi or sauerkraut, fermented soy like miso and tempeh and kombucha. 

Remember though, maintaining a healthy gut goes way beyond taking a probiotic supplement. 

Living a healthy lifestyle, getting good sleep, and eating real food with lots of fibre is the key to a healthy gut.

Vitamin D:

It can be produced by the skin following exposure to sunlight or we can obtain it from the diet. 

However, from October to March there is insufficient quality and quantity of sunshine to facilitate adequate vitamin D production, and secondly, our consumption of foods rich in vitamin D like oily fish, egg yolks, beef liver and fortified dairy products is not sufficient to meet our requirements alone.

This is where supplements can be beneficial with experts recommending we take 10 micro grams each day during winter. 

Certain population subgroups like the very young and old, those with darker skin and pregnant women may have higher requirements, speak to your doctor if you are concerned.

My advice would be to focus on the basics first. Then spend time really reviewing what will benefit you and where you should invest your money.

Chatting to your healthcare practitioner is always a good idea.


Examine.com and labdoor.com

I mentioned these websites above. 

If you are looking to purchase a supplement I would suggest visiting Examine.com first to see if it is actually going to be of any benefit and then checking labdoor.com to find out which brand offers the best quality for that supplement. 

This, together with input from your healthcare advisor will ensure you are making the best choice possible for you.

Healthy guacamole

This makes for a delicious snack or simple dinner party starter.

It’s packed with nutrition as the avocados are rich in heart healthy fats and fibre. A squeeze of lemon juice will help the dip to keep its vibrant colour for longer.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Serves: 2

Nutritional information (per serving):

Protein – 5.5g

Fat – 19g

Carbohydrates – 25g

Calories – 288


1 avocado, cut in half, stone removed and mashed

2 tsp extra virgin oil

Salt and pepper

1 wrap, folded in half and toasted.

To serve:

5-6 vine tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

In a small bowl combine the mashed avocado, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Cut the toasted wrap into triangles.

To serve, arrange the mashed avocado on the plate together with the tomatoes, yoghurt and wraps.


Mini breakfast pancakes

These are perfect for a lazy weekend breakfast and the add-ins mean that everyone can customise their own. 

You can make a double batch and keep some in the freezer for a speedy after school snack midweek, simply pop them in the toaster to defrost.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Makes: The number of pancakes will depend on the size you choose.

Nutritional information (for the full recipe):

Protein – 16g

Fat – 25g

Carbohydrates – 61g

Calories – 520


40g oats

1 banana

1 egg

Half cup buttermilk

1 tsp olive oil

Optional add-ins: desiccated coconut, cacao powder, blueberries, chocolate chips

Place the oats in a food processor and blitz into a flour-type consistency. 

Add the banana, eggs and buttermilk and blitz again to combine. Stir in any extra add ins at this point.

Heat the olive oil in a small pan over a medium heat. Pour the mixture in until you reach your desired pancake size.

Cook for 12 minutes on each side, waiting until bubbles start appearing on the pancake before flipping it.

Serve with some natural yoghurt, fruit and a drizzle of maple syrup.

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