The best way to get the nutrients we need is the old fashioned way: eat. Not just anything. It has to be a variety of healthy foods like fresh vegetables and fruit, because they alone provide the nutrients and fiber that can’t be fully duplicated in supplements.
Supplements are those non-prescription substances you take to add nutrients to your diet to lower your risk of specific health problems, such as osteoporosis or arthritis. Which makes them quite important. They might contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, amino acids, herbs, plants or enzymes, and they can come in the form of pills capsules, powders, gels, extracts or liquids.
Only about one in five adults is eating the minimum daily amount of fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control. We unintentionally may miss some nutrients while trying to eat better. For example, trying not to eat red meat can lead to a zinc deficiency. Removing cheese from our diet in order to lower fat intake can cause a calcium deficiency.
In such cases a supplement is called for—to provide nutrients that we are deficient in because of eating habits or ones that are missing from the food you eat. The NIH recommends talking with your doctor before taking any supplements, because some can interact with how your medicines will work. Also be sure to take the brand and dose that your doctor recommends. After a certain age, people may need more vitamins and minerals in the form of a supplement. Here are some typical ones that a doctor or nutritionist may recommend and some foods that may also do the trick:
- Calcium. It works with Vitamin D to keep bones strong and prevent bone loss and resulting fractures. It dissolves only in the stomach, so take with food.
- Where to find: Milk and milk products, canned fish, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals
- Vitamin D. Sometimes you can get more by just being in the sun 15 to 30 minutes twice a week. But please wear sunscreen!
- Where to find: Fortified milk and milk products, fortified cereals or a fatty fish like salmon.
- Vitamin B6. This is needed to form red blood cells.
- Where to find: Potatoes, bananas, chicken breasts fortified cereals
- Vitamin B12. Keeps red blood cells and nerves healthy.
- Where to find: Fortified cereals
These are natural substances that help protect you from diseases. Common sources are: beta-carotene (dark green or dark orange fruits and vegetables), Selenium (seafood, liver, meat and grains), Vitamin C (citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, berries,), Vitamin E (Wheat germ, nuts, sesame seeds, canola/olive/peanut oils).
These are dietary supplements that come from plants. A few of them are: gingko biloba, ginseng, echinacea and black cohosh. Researchers are looking into these supplements as ways to treat some health problems.
But are They Safe?
The FDA does not test ingredients of dietary supplements, but it will issue a warning if it receives reports about a supplement. It also looks into ads that might misrepresent the effects of a supplement.
Before you take a supplement:
- Learn as much as you can about the supplement.
- Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re taking one.
- Choose the brand that is recommended by your doctor.
- Check any claims being made. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.