How essential are supplements?

Do you sometimes wonder if you are getting all of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs daily to be healthy?

Do you sometimes wonder if you are getting all of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs daily to be healthy?

There’s a lot of claims in the media about certain nutrients and what great things they can do for you. This may get you thinking that your diet isn’t quite cutting it.

The best way to get the vitamins and minerals is by eating a wide variety of healthy foods.

A supplement can’t make up for unhealthy eating habits. There’s lots of evidence to suggest that many people are not getting their recommended amount of vegetables and fruits. This habit will shortchange the diet of folate (a B vitamin), vitamins C and A, potassium and magnesium, plus many beneficial phytochemicals (that give the plant it’s colour and antioxidant-protective qualities), such as beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene.

Plant foods give the body more than just vitamins and minerals.

Fibre, phytochemicals, antioxidants and naturally occurring fluid are some examples of these healthful components that are just not available through pills or powders. Therefore, adjusting eating habits to increase intake of vegetables and fruits is a good first step to improving general health.

Occasionally, people who have healthy eating habits find it hard to get all the vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods they require daily. A supplement may help fill in the gaps, but shouldn’t be used instead of eating well or as an excuse to routinely run on ‘junk’ and highly processed fast foods. If you decide to take a ‘one a day’ vitamin/mineral supplement, keep in mind it only serves to reinforce a healthy diet, not replace it.

There are some circumstances in which a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement may be required in certain individuals, such as:

• Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

• Individuals who are sick, injured, recovering from surgery, elderly, or who have one or many long-term health problems.

• People who eat a calorie-restricted diet, which does not provide adequate volume of food to offer all of the important vitamins and minerals.

• People who don’t eat a variety of foods, such as those who have food allergies or people who eat a vegetarian diet.

In addition, if a blood test shows that your body is low in a certain nutrient (eg. iron, vitamin B12, or Vitamin D) a supplement will be recommended to normalize your body’s stores.

Bone building nutrients

To maintain strong bones, it’s suggested that foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are eaten, plus for many people, a daily multivitamin/mineral will offer a minimum requirement for vitamin D (sunshine vitamin).

What should you look for when you pick a supplement?

• Choose one that provides a variety of vitamins and minerals (a multi) rather than a supplement that provides only a single vitamin or mineral (unless your health care professional has recommended an individual vitamin or mineral for your specific case).

• Pick a multivitamin/mineral supplement that, along with the foods you eat, provides the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for each vitamin and mineral. Supplements that provide a lot more than the RDA can cause health problems/toxicities and nutrient imbalances. This is especially important for minerals and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are stored more easily in the body, and they can build up to dangerous levels.

• Check the expiry date. Ensure the supplement’s date is after the time that you intend to finish all of the product.

• Ensure that the supplement you buy has the Natural Product Number (NPN) or a Drug Identification Number (DIN). This means that it meets Health Canada’s standards for safety, quality, and health claims.

• For those with allergies, be aware that many supplements may contain other ingredients, such as wheat, corn, eggs or gelatin. Check the label.

Additional Considerations when choosing a multivitamin/mineral supplement:

• A generic brand (or store brand) often works just as well as a name brand supplement.

Look for generic brands that contain the same amount of vitamins and minerals as the name brand.

• Most man-made (synthetic) vitamins are as good as natural vitamins.

• No supplement has been proven to cure diseases such as cancer, diabetes , heart disease , or digestive problems. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of supplements that promise quick and dramatic results. Don’t waste your money on unproven cure-alls.

5,4,3,2,1 Easy ‘Rules of Thumb’ To Get Some Essentials In Your Diet

-Five-a-day of different colours of vegetables and fruits for the variety of phytochemicals (that aren’t available in a supplement).

-Four hundred international units of vitamin D (available in most multivitamin/mineral supplements) in addition to dietary sources daily

-Three servings of calcium-rich foods (such as low fat dairy products, for instance) per day.

– Two servings of fish weekly (for omega-3 fatty acids and alternative protein to red meat)

– One Brazil nut for daily selenium (a micro-mineral that is lacking in the Pacific Northwest)

These simple rules of thumb, along with following Canada’s Food Guide will keep you on the right track with your long-term nutritional health.

 

Sandra Gentleman is a local dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.