Vitamins and Minerals

Do you really need vitamin and mineral supplements?

First and foremost, nutritional needs should be met by eating a variety of foods. In some cases, vitamin/mineral supplements or fortified foods may be useful for providing nutrients that may otherwise be eaten in less than recommended amounts. If you are already eating the recommended amount of a nutrient, you may not get any further health benefit from taking a supplement. In some cases, supplements and fortified foods may actually cause you to exceed safe levels.

People over age 50 should consume vitamin B12 in its crystalline form, that is, from fortified foods (like some fortified breakfast cereals) or as a supplement.(Note that older adults often have a reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods. However, crystalline vitamin B12, the type of vitamin B12 used in supplements and in fortified foods, is much more easily absorbed.)

Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and adolescent females should eat foods that are a source of heme-iron (such as meats) and/or they should eat iron-rich plant foods (like cooked dry beans or spinach) or iron-fortified foods (like fortified cereals) along with a source of vitamin C.

Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those who are pregnant should consume adequate synthetic folic acid daily (from fortified foods or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet.

It is important to note that vitamin/mineral supplements are not a replacement for a healthful diet. Remember that in addition to vitamins and minerals, foods also contain hundreds of naturally occurring substances that can help protect your health.

  • Do you eat fewer than 2 meals per day?
  • Is your diet restricted? That is, do you not eat meat, or milk or milk products, or eat fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day?
  • Do you eat alone most of the time?
  • Without wanting to, have you lost or gained more than 10 pounds in the last 6 months?
  • Do you take 3 or more prescription or over-the-counter medicines a day?
  • Do you have 3 or more drinks of alcohol a day?
  • If the answer to more than two of these questions is yes then you should talk to your doctor about taking vitamin/mineral supplements. You and your doctor should work together to determine if a vitamin/mineral supplement is right for you.

    If you are already taking dietary supplements, you should inform your doctor. Research shows that many people do not let their doctors know that they are taking a dietary supplement or are considering taking one. You may think side effects happen only with prescription medicines, but some dietary supplements can cause side effects if taken with other medications or if certain health conditions exist.

    Where can you find scientifically sound information about vitamin/mineral supplements?

    Your doctor is a good place to start. In addition, registered dietitians are helpful.

    What should you do if you suspect you may be having a side-effect from a dietary supplement?

    First, stop taking the supplement. Next tell your doctor or health care professional.

    In summary, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian about which, if any, vitamin or mineral supplements might be right for you. And remember that while there are circumstances when it may be appropriate to take vitamin/mineral supplements, they are not a replacement for a healthful diet.

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