Should You Take Vitamins?

As a Registered Dietitian I’m frequently asked which vitamin and mineral supplements people should take. First and foremost, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from actual foods. There is something called the “synergistic effect of foods” where your body absorbs the vitamins and minerals better when consumed from food versus a supplement.

Which vitamin and minerals should you take? Multivitamins seem like the easiest, all encompassing choice, but in most cases they are usually just a waste of money. Most multivitamins consist mainly of water soluble vitamins, which are excreted through our urine if we consume more than our body needs.

That said, there are certain instances where vitamin and mineral supplements are beneficial. Certain populations have increased nutrient needs, which may be difficult to meet solely from food. People who follow a restrictive diet, either by choice or necessity, may be missing out on vital nutrients and can benefit from supplements as well.

Below are some specific vitamins and minerals and who can benefit from supplementation:

Calcium- Adolescents and post-menopausal women have increased calcium needs. It is best to spread calcium supplements out throughout the day as our bodies can only absorb about 500 mg at a time.

Vitamin D- The majority of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, but those people living in northern or overcast states are particularly low as our bodies can synthesize vitamin D from sun exposure.

Vitamin B 12- Vegetarians and vegans are often deficient in this vitamin as it is mainly found in animal products and can benefit from supplements.

Iron- Women, especially pregnant women, are often deficient in iron due to blood loss from menstruation and the sudden increase in blood volume during pregnancy. It’s a good idea to combine iron supplements with foods high in vitamin c to increase absorption. Iron supplements can increase constipation, so make sure you keep your fiber and fluid intake high as a preventative measure.  

It is best to get a blood test to determine if you have any deficiencies before starting a supplement as certain vitamins and minerals can build up in our body to toxic levels. The advice I give client is: see if you are deficient in a nutrient and then supplement with only that nutrient to save money and get the maximum benefit from supplements.

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