Dietary Supplements Defined

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Dietary supplements are neither food nor drugs. Instead, they're products taken orally that contain a "dietary ingredient" meant to supplement the diet, not substitute for healthful foods. According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), approved in 1994, the term "dietary supplements" refers to a broad range of products: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, and amino acids, as well as substances such as enzymes, hormones, concentrates, extracts, and metabolites.

Many misconceptions surround dietary supplements. What do you think about using them?

Fact or Myth?


Nutrient supplements can make up for my poor food choices.


Taking supplements can prevent, treat, or cure disease.


Supplements boost my energy.


If it's herbal, it's not harmful.


"Stress" vitamins help me cope better with a lot of emotional stress.


A supplement can help me build muscle or get more from my physical performance.


A vitamin pill could protect my body from the harmful effects of smoking or alcohol.


Supplements make up for foods grown in depleted soil.


Popping a supplement pill can offer immediate benefits.

Here are the facts:

Misconceptions about dietary supplements are rampant. Even though consumers with these beliefs buy supplements, every statement is false!

  1. Fact: No dietary supplement can fix an ongoing pattern of poor food choices. Supplements may supply some vitamins and minerals, but not all the substances that food supplies for your optimal health. Only a varied and balanced eating pattern provides enough nutrient variety, phytonutrients, and other substances for health. If you eat right, you probably don't need a daily supplement.
  2. Fact: No scientific evidence in humans proves that a very high dosage of vitamin and mineral supplements prevents, treats, or cures cancer or other chronic illnesses. An extra amount of vitamin C won't prevent colds and flu, although it may reduce the symptoms. Some antioxidant nutrients, taken in higher dosages, may have protective effects, but research is still preliminary. See "Antioxidant Vitamins: A Closer Look" in chapter 4.
  3. Fact: It would be great, but boosting your nutrient intake won't cause your cells to produce extra energy or more brain power. Only three nutrients-carbohydrates, fats, and proteins-supply energy or calories. Vitamins don't. Although B vitamins do help body cells produce energy from the three energy nutrients, they don't produce energy themselves.
  4. Fact: Many powerful drugs and toxic chemicals are plant-based. Varieties of mushrooms can be classified as "culinary delicious" or "deadly dangerous." In the same vein, herbal supplements should be used with caution!
  5. Fact: Emotional stress doesn't increase nutrient needs. Any claims promoting dietary supplements to "de-stress" your life are misleading, too. The best dietary advice to meet the physical demands of stress: a varied, balanced eating plan. More "de-stressing" advice: stay active, get enough rest, and take some personal time out to relax.
  6. Fact: Athletes and other physically active people need about the same amount of nutrients as others do-just more energy, or calories, for the increased demands of exercise. The extra amount of food that active people eat supplies the very small amount of extra vitamins for energy production, too. Although protein needs are somewhat higher for some athletes, especially for those in strength-training sports, food can easily provide the extra. On another note, physical activity, not extra amino acids (protein), builds muscle. For more on nutrition for athletes and ergogenic aids, see chapter 19, "Athlete's Guide: Winning Nutrition."
  7. Fact: Dietary supplements won't protect you from the harmful effects of smoking or alcohol abuse. Here's the real scoop: Smoking does increase the body's need for vitamin C; drinking excessive

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