What’s the deal with dietary supplements?

Who remembers those commercials for Flintstones brand chewable multivitamins from back in the day? As a kid, I was happy to take one a day because, let’s face it, they tasted like candy. Now that I’m an adult, it’s definitely a little harder to feel like I should be taking a daily vitamin or other dietary supplement. There are so many bottles sitting on the shelf at the grocery store and so many labels; it can be overwhelming when you’ve just come to pick up some eggs. Understanding a bit more about these supplements and how they work can go a long way towards helping you determine whether or not they should be a part of your life.  As National Nutrition Month comes to an end, we’re providing you with an overview of dietary supplements to help you decide whether you need to boost your nutrition this spring.

What exactly is a dietary supplement?

Dietary supplements can contain one or more dietary ingredients like vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other substances. They usually come in pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid form, but can also come as powders and bars, too. They’re meant to supplement (not replace) the nutrition you get from your daily diet.

Do I even need to take a dietary supplement?

It depends. Your nutritional needs should technically be met as long as you’re eating a healthy and balanced diet full of a variety of foods. The foods we eat are full of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and other substances that are good for your health, but sometimes you might not be getting enough of a particular nutrient. This can be due to lots of reasons even outside of what you eat. For instance, if you’re getting insufficient exposure to sunlight, you might not be getting enough vitamin D; this is where a dietary supplement could be helpful.

What should I take then?

Before you pull every bottle from the shelf, it’s a very good idea to talk to your doctor first to determine what supplement may be right for you, or if you even need one. It can be dangerous to exceed the level of nutrients you can safely intake. Your doctor can tell you just how much of a particular supplement will be beneficial to your health. If you’re already taking one, make sure your doctor is aware – some supplements may not play nicely with prescription medication.

How much of a recommended supplement should I take?

The manufacturers label will suggest a serving size as it relates to the potency of the supplement ingredients, but this can get a little confusing depending on what your doctor has recommended for you. You don’t want to take more (or less) than what you need. Read the labels as carefully as you can, and follow up with your doctor to make sure you’ve picked up the right thing. You can also ask your local pharmacist for help with interpreting supplement labels.

Where can I find more information about the types of supplements that are available?

A good place to start is MedlinePlus. Powered by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), MedlinePlus presents information in an easy to read format and provides you with lots of links to other safe places to look for health-related information. The NIH also has a number of helpful Vitamin and Mineral Fact Sheets that can provide you with scientifically-based overviews about the many vitamins and minerals that are out there.

Resources

https://medlineplus.gov/dietarysupplements.html

https://www.nutrition.gov/dietary-supplements/questions-to-ask-before-taking-vitamins-and-mineral-supplements

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/DietarySupplements-HealthProfessional/

 

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