With so many vitamin and mineral supplements advertised daily and available to us, we often wonder whether we should take them or not. Some people just say they “can’t hurt” but is it really true? And what if we exceed safe levels of intake of certain nutrients? Before you buy any supplements read this article. Find out what you need to know about vitamin and mineral supplements.
First of all, our nutritional needs should be met by eating a wide variety of foods as outlined in national dietary guidelines. Vitamin or mineral supplements or fortified foods (such as breakfast cereal) might be useful for providing nutrients that may otherwise be consumed in smaller than recommended amounts. If you are eating the recommended amount of a nutrient, there is obviously no need to take a supplement, as you won’t get any further health benefits from doing so. To avoid overdoing, consider the following things you need to know about vitamin and mineral supplements.
Vitamin and mineral supplements: Food is the key
It is crucial to remember that vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace a healthy diet. Keep in mind that in addition to vitamins and minerals, foods also contain hundreds of naturally appearing substances that can help absorb the nutrients and protect your health.
Certain groups of people need supplements
As we get older, our ability to reduce vitamin B12 from food is reduced. That’s why people over the age of 50 should consume vitamin B12 in its crystalline so from fortified foods or as a supplement.
Women of childbearing age who may get pregnant and adolescent females should eat foods that are a source of heme-iron (for example meats). Or they should consume iron-rich plant foods (spinach, beans) or iron-fortified foods (like fortified cereals) along with a source of vitamin C.
Women of childbearing age who may get or are pregnant should consume synthetic folic acid daily that comes from fortified foods or supplements in addition to having a varied diet.
Older adults, people with dark skin, and people who don’t get enough exposure to sunlight should consume extra vitamin D from fortified foods or supplements.
Talk to your doctor about supplements
It’s very important for you and your doctor to work together and decide whether a supplement is right for you. Before your appointment, ask yourself these questions and then make sure you discuss them with your doctor:
- Do I eat fewer than 2 meals per day?
- Is my diet restricted? (Do I eat meat, milk products, etc? Am I allergic to anything? Do I eat fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day?)
- Have I lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the last 6 months without wanting to?
- Do I take 3 or more prescription or over-the-counter medicines a day?
- Do I have 3 or more drinks of alcohol a day?
You should inform your doctor if you already take any vitamin or mineral dietary supplements. A lot of people don’t tell their doctors that they take supplements thinking that side effects happen only with prescription medicines.
However, some dietary supplements may cause side effects when taken with other medications or when particular health conditions exist. Even if you are generally healthy, the wrong supplement or the wrong amount of it can cause problems. So before you take any supplement, check with your doctor.
Find sound information about vitamin and mineral supplement
Don’t underestimate the power of information. Educate yourself on supplements. A good place to start is your doctor, pharmasist or a registered dietician. You can also read a series of Vitamin and Mineral Fact Sheets published by the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
There is also a number of articles available from the Food and Drug Administration that inform consumers about dietary supplements, including warnings and safety information or labeling.