Your Ultimate Guide to Supplements: Part 1

As the new year progresses, many Americans are embarking on their paths to newly formed New Year’s resolutions – weight loss, healthier eating habits, more physical activity, and less alcohol. Along with these new goals, …

As the new year progresses, many Americans are embarking on their paths to newly formed New Year’s resolutions – weight loss, healthier eating habits, more physical activity, and less alcohol. Along with these new goals, many people are purchasing a wide variety of products to help them reach their new goals. One of the top purchases this year? Vitamins, minerals and other supplement products. A huge business in the United States (grossing over $5 billion a year in total sales) and one that is definitely capitalizing on everyone’s healthy New Year’s initiatives.

If you’ve considered adding vitamins or other supplements to your daily routine, you may have wondered which ones are right for you, how much you should take, or how safe supplements really are. To help make your decisions a bit easier, I’ve created this 3 part guide to vitamins, minerals and other supplements. I’ll review the most commonly recommended supplements, their advantages and whether or not they may be right for you.

To begin, its important to note that supplements can be useful but are not for everyone. If you are consuming a varied diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins, you may be better off sticking with a healthy diet rather than supplements. However, if you have nutrient deficiencies, increased nutrient needs (as seen with children, lactating mothers, elderly or those people who have a chronic illness), have food allergies or other dietary restrictions, or want to reduce your disease risk adding certain supplements may be beneficial to your health. Either way, here is Part 1 of the Ultimate Guide to Supplements:

Multi-Vitamin/Mineral (MV): these are probably the most common supplement consumed. Generally, MV’s have close to the RDA (recommend daily amount) of all the essential vitamins and minerals required by the body. This is a great supplement to take to ensure you are receiving the appropriate amount of every nutrient. However, do not rely on MV’s to compensate for a poor diet. It’s important to get as many of these critical nutrients from their natural source – food.

Calcium: For women, calcium is one of the most important minerals. It plays an essential role in preventing osteoporosis and other bone deterioration. On average, many women are only consuming about 500 mg/day when we really should be consuming around 1500 mg. If you’re not big on dairy or dark greens, a calcium supplement may be a good idea. Even if you’re a male, you still need about 1000 mg/day. Note: your body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium every few hours.(2) So split up those supplements throughout the day.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is an interesting nutrient. It’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D through foods and besides taking a supplement, the only other way to get enough of this vitamin is sufficient sun exposure. Considering all the new recommendations to prevent skin cancer, baking in the sun isn’t the safest way to increase your Vitamin D. A supplement in this case might be a good idea – especially if you’ve been tagged as Vitamin D deficient by your doctor. Note: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin – meaning it remains in fat cells for extended periods of time (think in terms of months). It’s important to follow dosing instructions carefully as extremely high amounts of Vitamin D are toxic.

Fish Oil: This supplement has become hugely popular over the past few years – and it has every right to be. Fish oil, found naturally or in supplement form, is high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They have been shown to decrease risk of cardiovascular disease and other related health issues.(1) Again, its best to get your omega-3 dose from a natural source such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, or mackerel), walnuts, olive oil or avocado. If these foods do not strike your fancy or you’re not consuming them >3 times/week, a fish oil supplement might be a good addition for you.

Vitamin B12: Not the most recognized vitamin supplement, but still important for healthy nerve and blood cells and DNA replication. B12 is found exclusively in animal products and fortified foods such as cereal. Most adults get plenty of B12 in their diets. However, vegetarians, vegans or people with gastrointestinal disorders may need to take a B12 supplement.(1) Many multi-vitamins contain varying amounts of B12 and can be taken daily to ensure adequate B12 consumption. Check the exact amount of B12 on your multi-vitamin to ensure you’re receiving 100% of the recommended amount. If not, consider purchasing a separate B12 supplement.

That’s it for the first section of my Ultimate Guide to Supplements. Next week, check back for Part 2, I’ll be reviewing protein powder, creatine, iron, zinc and Vitamin C.

Note: Remember, supplements are not appropriate for everyone. They are not reviewed by the government before they are marketed. It is up to the supplement manufacturer to ensure their products are safe before they hit shelves. Many supplements have interactions with prescription and over the counter medications so make sure to read the label carefully and speak to your doctor or registered dietitian before making any changes to or beginning a daily supplement routine. For more information on vitamins, minerals and other supplements please visit the Office of Dietary Supplements: