Do I Need a Supplement?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on June 29, 2004 · 0 comments

Vitamin/mineral supplements are additions to healthy eating, not substitutes for healthy foods.

It’s a question we’re asked often. We’re not against supplements. We think of them like car insurance; wise to have but no substitute for safe driving.

Experts aren’t in total agreement about who should take vitamin and mineral supplements but they all agree people should make smart food choices.

So, we’re going to turn the question back to you. Do you need a daily supplement? To help decide, answer the following questions.

Are you dieting to lose weight? yes no
Are you ill or recovering from an illness? yes no
Do you smoke? yes no
Do you regularly drink alcohol? yes no
Are you normally stressed or pressured? yes no
Are you a woman of childbearing age? yes no
Are you pregnant or breastfeeding? yes no
Are you over 50? yes no
Do you rarely eat vitamin and mineral fortified foods, such as cereal, juice, energy bars, and soy beverages? yes no
Do you take prescription medicine daily? yes no
Do you regularly skip meals? yes no
Is soda your usual beverage choice? yes no
Do you eat sweets (cookies, cake, candy, ice cream) daily? yes no
Do you eat fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day? yes no
Do you eat fewer than 3 calcium-rich foods (milk, soy milk, yogurt, cheese) each day? yes no

The more times you answered “yes” the more likely you would benefit from a supplement. Next time you see your doctor, discuss these answers and ask for advice.

Meanwhile, taking a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement may be wise because there is evidence that supplements may lower your risk for chronic diseases.

Almost everything recommended by experts who advocate supplements can be found in a generic multivitamin, like a drugstore or supermarket brand.

Women before menopause should pick one with iron. Men and postmenopausal women should pick one without iron. The only nutrient that may not be covered adequately by a generic supplement is calcium.

Whatever you decide about supplement use, always keep in mind that you should use them in addition to eating well, rather than an excuse not to bother.

For all the latest information on vitamins and minerals, look for The Vitamin and Mineral Food Counter by Annette B. Natow, PhD, RD and Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD.

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