Quinn on Nutrition: Should you take dietary supplements?

May 30, 2016

"Should I take dietary supplements?" is a question much like, "Should I stop for gas?" The answer depends on whatís in the tank. In other words, only take dietary supplements if you need them.

Dietary supplements should be just that ó a way to get the nutrients missing from our diets. Still, real food is the best way to get the right balance of nutrients to make our human machines run smoothly, say experts. Why? Scientists say there is a special interaction or synergy between nutrients and other substances in whole food that enhances their health effects more than the action of each molecule individually. And while toxic doses of dietary supplements can be a concern, itís very difficult to overdose on nutrients from eating food.

There are some exceptions, however, to the rule that we can get all the nutrition we need from eating good food, say experts.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is unique, we were told in the Advisory Report for the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, because it is not present in many of the foods we commonly eat. Itís also different from other nutrients in that the primary source for obtaining vitamin D is not from food but from the sun. (Sunshine on exposed skin causes a reaction that stimulates the formation of vitamin D in our bodies.)

Even if we ate perfectly, our diet could still fall short of vitamin D, say experts. And in this world of limited sun exposure, dietary supplements have become a main source of this essential nutrient.

Calcium: If you avoid dairy foods for any reason or if you do not eat calcium-fortified soy or other products, you may need supplemental calcium.

Multivitamin/mineral: Certain individuals can benefit from a daily multivitamin, including pregnant women, women who are nursing an infant, strict vegetarians and vegans (whose diets are typically low in vitamin B-12, zinc, iron and calcium). People who have had weight loss surgery such as gastric bypass and adults over the age of 65 (the body doesnít process nutrients as well as we age) may also need a daily multivitamin.

Do you eat at least two servings of fruit every day? Do you eat at least 2 cups of vegetables every day? Do you routinely eat whole grain foods? If not, say nutrition experts, you are probably falling short on key nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and E. If a change in diet is not in the cards, a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement that provides around 100 percent of the recommended daily value can help fill the gap.

Are dietary supplements safe? They are as long as we donít exceed the UL (Tolerable Upper Intake Level) set by the Institute of Medicine (

By the way, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is in the midst of a project called the Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database (DSID) in which the content and quality of dietary supplements are being analyzed. Thus far, they have found that not all dietary supplements contain the amount of nutrient listed on their labels. Buyers beware.

Still confused? Join the party. Then track down the info you need at the reliable Office of Dietary Supplements (




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