Deciding Whether to Supplement

Confused? If you are currently taking supplements and are not knowledgeable about vitamins or minerals, I recommend that you consult with a registered dietitian (RD), preferably a RD, CSSD (board certified specialist in sports dietetics). This nutrition professional will be able to evaluate your diet and tell you not only what nutrients you are missing but also how to choose foods that offer what you need. To find an RD, use the referral network at www.eatright.org and see the Registered Dietitians entry in appendix A for other resources

If you simply like the idea of taking a one-a-day type of vitamin pill for peace of mind and health insurance, here are some guidelines that can help you zero in on the best bets:

  • Choose a supplement with the vitamins and minerals close to 100 percent of the daily values (DVs). Don't expect to find 100 percent of the DV for calcium and magnesium listed on a label; these minerals are too bulky to put in one pill.
  • Don't buy supplements that contain excessive doses of vitamins and minerals, particularly minerals. High doses of one mineral can offset the benefits of another. For example, too much zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper.
  • Buy and use a supplement before its expiration date. Store it in a cool, dry place.
  • Ignore claims about natural vitamins; they tend to be blends of natural and synthetic vitamins and offer no benefits. Vitamin E is more potent in its natural form, but the difference is inconsequential.
  • Chelated supplements offer no advantages, and neither do those made without sugar or starch or those with the highest price tag.
  • Look for USP on the label. This indicates the manufacturer followed standards established by the U.S. Pharmacopeia.
  • Choose nationally known brands; this may improve the likelihood of actually getting what you believe you are buying.
  • To optimize absorption, take a supplement with or after a meal.

Above all, think food first. As I have said before, and will say again, no vitamin pill will compensate for hit-or-miss eating. If you eat wisely and well, you can get the nutrients you need from the foods you enjoy. Your overall dietary pattern is what's health protective, not isolated vitamins. Your best bet is to eat your vitamins from a variety of foods. For example, here's how to get some key antioxidants:

  • For vitamin C, eat oranges and other citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, and leafy greens.
  • For vitamin E, consume sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter, wheat germ, and avocados.
  • For beta-carotene, munch on carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, kale, cantaloupe, and apricots.
  • For selenium, eat seafood, lean meat, chicken, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
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