The world of vitamin and mineral supplements is ever growing in popularity and doesn’t seem to be losing strength anytime soon! As a dietitian, I find many people prefer to invest in dietary supplements rather than improve their current diet. Vitamins and minerals are necessary to help keep our bodies functioning properly and serve many important roles including need for proper development, immunity, and most importantly, overall health. Still, we are often asked, do you really need to take vitamin and mineral supplements?
The answer is no. In the end, there should be little need to take a vitamin or supplement. If you are eating a balanced and nutritious diet comprised of all food groups, you are likely getting the proper amount of vitamins and minerals through your food and drink.
When it comes to eating a balanced and nutritious diet comprised of the proper food groups, the more color you have on your plate each day, the better! This means color from whole foods, not processed food items. Let’s take the color orange for instance. A good example of a colorful, orange food item is a tangerine and a bad example would be cheesy tortilla chips. Other general tips to focus on to ensure proper vitamin and mineral intake each day include focusing on the following food items:
- Whole-grain products
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh vegetables
- Calcium rich food items including dairy products
- Lean protein items including meat and eggs
- Nuts, seeds, nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter)
Remember: Limit high calorie and low nutrient density foods including chips, cookies, sweets/desserts, and other “junk” food items. They do not offer the vitamins and minerals your body needs for proper health.
As a consumer, be cautious about the types of food items you are consuming to obtain your vitamins and minerals. For instance, many breakfast cereals that are not particularly healthy, market their products as being fortified with certain vitamins and minerals. Energy drinks will often use this same tactic offering. It is important to remember that vitamins and minerals themselves do not provide you energy. They may have a role in the energy production process, but they do not provide the energy to help you stay awake to study for a test or perform better during a game or competition- that’s the role of carbohydrates from whole grains products, fruit, and dairy products.
When it comes to vitamins and minerals, it is important to keep in mind that more is not always better either. If you have a higher than necessary amount of a vitamin or mineral, it could cause you to become sick.
What we do recommend is to take a multivitamin a few days per week. This can help fill any gaps in your diet where you may not be getting the proper vitamin and mineral intake on a daily basis.
If you do decide to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, it is important to remember that they are not regulated in the same way as pharmaceutical drugs are. They do not have to be tested for purity or safety before reaching store shelves. Vitamin and mineral labels often contain unproven or “catchy” phrases about the product in order to get the consumer to buy them.
Overall, if you concerned to any capacity that your child is not eating properly, it is best to speak with a physician or dietitian before taking vitamin or mineral supplements of any kind. They are able to collaborate with you and make the best decision possible for your child. Here are a few reasons why a vitamin or mineral supplement might be necessary for your child:
- Your child is skipping meals and snacks
- Your child is not eating enough of certain food items from a particular food group (Ex: he/she does not like dairy products and may not be getting enough calcium)
- Your child has picky eating habits
- Deficiencies that have been diagnosed by a physician
- Elimination of entire food groups due to allergies or personal preference (Ex: Vegetarians, Vegans)
To find out more about Vitamins and Minerals, check out the National Institutes of Health Vitamin and Mineral Fact Sheets or the US Department of Agriculture.