Eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins is the best way to get all the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients our bodies need to function properly. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to meet all of your recommended nutritional needs on a daily basis.
Supplements can be a good alternative to bridge any gaps in your diet, give you the nutrients you need, or help with any malabsorption issues. But be careful when you determine if, when, and how much to supplement on a daily basis. There are still questions about the usefulness of many supplements. They can also be harmful if they’re not taken appropriately. Consult your physician or a registered dietitian nutritionist to be sure supplements are right for you.
Certain supplements may be beneficial when you don’t get enough of these nutrients in your diet:
- Iron for women due to menstruation
- Folate for women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy
- Calcium for bone health at all ages
- Vitamin D for bone health, nerve function, and more (make sure you find a supplement that combines calcium and vitamin D)
- Fiber to help decrease your risk of colon cancer and heart disease
- Vitamin B12, found primarily in meat, for anyone with a plant-based diet. (Also note: As we get older it’s difficult to get enough B12. If you’re over 60, consider taking this supplement. A simple blood test can check your B12 status.)
Supplements can also be expensive so do your homework to determine if you need one in the first place. It makes more sense to invest your time and money to get the prescribed daily nutrients through the foods you eat, rather than supplements. Nutrients in foods work in concert with each other and our bodies. If you take a single nutrient out of its normal existence, it’s not known if it will provide the same benefits.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration regulates the supplement industry differently. Manufacturers don’t have to prove a supplement contains the amounts stated, if it’s safe, or even that it works before it’s sold. This leads to concerns with the safety of some supplements.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, titled Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements, approximately 23,000 emergency department visits in the United States every year are connected to adverse events involving dietary supplements.
Remember, a balanced diet combined with an active lifestyle is the best way to stay healthy. Supplements may be helpful for some people who don’t get enough through their diet or suffer from malabsorption-related diseases. However, use caution, since supplements can cause harm if they’re used carelessly. Always double-check what you take with your healthcare provider.