Supplementing Your Diet
If you eat healthy, well-balanced meals, you will most likely get all of the nutrients you need without taking supplements, according to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
However, some young adults take supplements to ensure that their bodies are getting all the nutrients they need. Keep reading to find out if you would benefit from taking dietary supplements.
- What is a dietary supplement?
- Should I take a dietary supplement?
- Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements
- Safety & Effectiveness
What is a dietary supplement?
A dietary supplement is a product you take to enhance your diet. It contains at least one dietary ingredient (such as vitamins, minerals, herbs) and is intended to be taken by mouth (as a pill, tablet, or liquid) to supplement the diet. Dietary supplements are also required to be labeled as such.
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Should I take a dietary supplement?
If your meals are sporadic and you do not regularly eat a variety of foods, a dietary supplement can provide the vitamins and minerals you're missing. Consult your doctor or a nutritionist to see if changing your diet or taking a dietary supplement would be right for you.
Certain groups of people are also more likely to need dietary supplements. If you fall into one of these categories, consider talking to your doctor or nutritionist about taking a supplement:
- Strict vegetarians or vegans
- People with allergies to certain foods (such as gluten allergies) or those who avoid certain types of foods
- Pregnant women (there are certain nutrients, such as folic acid, that pregnant women need greater amounts of to reduce the risk of birth defects of the brain and spine in their newborn babies).
- People with health conditions that reduce appetite
Keep in mind that dietary supplements are not intended to treat, prevent, or cure disease and may have unwanted effects. This is especially true if you take multiple supplements, take them before surgery, or have certain health conditions. Dietary supplements may also trigger an allergic reaction or may interact with some medication. Always consult with your doctor if you are thinking about using dietary supplements.
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Studies show that about one in three Americans takes a multivitamin/mineral. Some people take a multivitamin/mineral as a form of "nutritional insurance" – to make sure they're getting their daily recommendation of vitamins and minerals.
You can find a variety of multivitamin/mineral products at the market, each with a different combination of types and amounts of vitamins and minerals. There are even gummy vitamins for adults who dislike swallowing pills.
Keep in mind that taking a multivitamin/mineral – especially if you are taking more than one supplement per day – can increase the likelihood of getting too much of a particular nutrient, which can negatively affect your health.
The bottom line is that taking a multivitamin/mineral cannot replace the health benefits that you would get from eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods. However, they can be a good way to ensure you get the recommended intake of some important vitamins and minerals if you are not eating a balanced diet. They are better than nothing, but not as good as the real thing.
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Safety & Effectiveness
Not all dietary supplements are safe. Dietary supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but they are regulated differently from food and drugs. The FDA is not required to approve a dietary supplement for safety or effectiveness before the supplement is available to consumers.
This means that the information we have about supplements varies a lot depending on the supplement. There are some dietary supplements that have been studied much more than others. For example, there is good evidence that calcium is important for keeping bones strong and reducing bone loss. However, other supplements have not been thoroughly studied.
To find out more information about a particular dietary supplement, check out the links below:
- Fact sheets on dietary supplements from the National Institutes of Health
- Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)
Want to improve your diet? Track your progress on your health goals using your Young Adult WAY2GO! Dashboard.
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public health education intern
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: August 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Office of Dietary Supplements