Image: National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark

Plant based food supplements are seen as a kind of 'insurance'

Wednesday 31 Aug 16


Sisse Fagt
Senior adviser
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 74 22

Among users of plant based dietary supplements a belief in an alleged beneficial health effect is the predominant motivation for taking the supplements. Many see the supplements as a kind of insurance against various ailments, according to a study by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. In general, users of plant based supplements only have limited knowledge about both the specific supplements they take and the general recommendations relating to the use of dietary supplements.

Danes are among the highest users of dietary supplements in Europe. Results from the nationwide dietary survey conducted by National Food Institute show that 64% of 18-75-year-olds take dietary supplements. In this age group approximately 5% take a dietary supplement containing different herbs and plant extracts such as ginkgo biloba, ginger or echinacea.

The National Food Institute has conducted a study on behalf of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration to examine the reasons why people take dietary supplements as well as users’ knowledge of both the products they take and the official recommendations relating to the general use of dietary supplements.

Belief in an effect

People interviewed for the study often cite a specific health problem as the reason they started taking a plant based dietary supplement – either because they already suffer from this problem or they are worried it will affect them in the future.

People who experience or believe in a beneficial health effect, or who are worried about what their health would be like if they didn’t take the supplements, continue taking the supplements as a kind of insurance. Some feel that if the supplements do not have the intended effect, the worst that can happen is that they are wasting their money.

Limited knowledge

Users of plant-based dietary supplements generally take them without having much knowledge of the specific products they are taking. The limited knowledge they do have is often undocumented and comes from various magazines as well as advertising from retailers.

While some users are not looking for more information, the majority would like more evidence on the health effects. They have greater confidence in information that comes from books or alternative health practitioners than from advertising.

The majority of people interviewed for the study are not aware that official recommendations on the use of dietary supplements exist, and no one has any detailed knowledge of what the recommendations say. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration only recommend that a very small part of the population takes dietary supplements – and there is no recommendation for the use of plant based dietary supplements.

Read more

The study, which is based on qualitative interviews with  users of dietary supplements, is described in further detail in the report: Plantebaserede kosttilskud – et kvalitativt studie af årsager, motiver og viden (pdf – available in Danish only with an English summary).

Please also read the National Food Institute’s press release from 8 March 2016: Many Danes take dietary supplements although few need them.


  • Multivitamin and mineral supplements are the most commonly consumed type of dietary supplement. In total 48% of users take this type of supplement.
  • Women take a dietary supplement more often than men. Consumption increases among men as the level of education goes up. Consumption increases with age among both sexes .
  • There are no recommendations for the general Danish population to take supplements. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration recommends that only certain groups of the population take a supplement, including infants, women who plan to become or are pregnant, people over 70, people with dark skin or covered persons.