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  • Aryane Oar, MS, RDN, CD

Do we really need daily supplements?



In today’s consumer-driven world, it is hard to distinguish what we really need nutritionally or what is just hype. 


Multivitamins have become part of our daily lives. Generic and brand-name options can be found in several varieties, such as B vitamins alone, multivitamins with minerals, and those specific for women, men, children or the elderly, to name a few. As we navigate a seemingly endless sea of supplement marketing, it is easy to become overwhelmed and lose focus on what we really need. As a result, we find ourselves believing that we are missing essential nutrients when, in reality, we may be getting everything we need from the foods we already eat. Read on and I will help you unravel the world of supplements. 


Our main goal should be to meet our nutritional needs primarily from food. Food provides us with a variety of compounds that benefit health as opposed to pills, which are a concentrated form of some nutrients. So, diverse eating patterns play a crucial role. Also, keep in mind that several foods we consume are fortified with vitamins and minerals. 


So, who would benefit from daily multivitamins and supplements? Here are some examples:


Older adults

As people age, it may be difficult to get enough vitamin B12 from food as a result of reduced gastric acid secretion. Vitamin D deficiency is also common in this population (as well as among infants, children, and young adults). So, in these cases, supplementation may be recommended. 


Pregnant women

Adequate intake of folic acid helps reduce the risk of birth defects, so supplementation during childbearing years and pregnancy becomes important. Supplemental iron during pregnancy may be recommended, too.

 

Food allergies and intolerances

Food allergies may result in food restriction; thus, excluding important sources of nutrients. In this case, supplements may also become necessary. 


Medical conditions

Food choices may be limited in certain medical conditions. Also, people who are taking certain medications or have a health condition that changes how their body uses nutrients may need supplementation or may need to limit the consumption of certain foods. 


Vegetarian or vegan diet

Animal foods are the main source of vitamin B12, so fortified foods and/or supplements may be necessary in this case. 


Note that supplemental vitamins, minerals, and herbs are not regulated by the federal government in the U.S., so it is important to assure they come from a reputable manufacturer. Also, too much of some vitamins and minerals can have a toxic effect and cause health issues. 


For the general population, the recommendation is to eat food first as a variety of foods provide an array of nutrients and will help you meet all your vitamin and mineral requirements. If you still feel that supplementation may benefit you, consult a doctor or a registered dietitian. Your doctor can order tests to determine if that is actually the case. Also, review your current eating habits. A dietitian can help you assess the foods you eat and make recommendations based on your personal needs. 


Suggestions: If you want more food for thought, I highly recommend you listen to The Dream podcast, season 2, episode 3; such an eye-opening discussion! The book Vitamania by Catherine Price is also really well done and a great resource. Check them out!



References:


Kamangar F, Emadi A. Vitamin and mineral supplements: do we really need them? International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012;3(3):221-226. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309636/


Wolfram T. Vitamins, minerals and supplements: do you need to take them? Food & Nutrition Magazine. 2018. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/dietary-supplements/vitamins-minerals-and-supplements-do-you-need-to-take-them

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