Over the years, dietary supplements have grown in popularity. Grocery stores are stocked with different vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements, and there are now health stores dedicated to selling you dietary supplements. Now you may be wondering, what exactly is a dietary supplement? A dietary supplement is a group of substances that are added into one’s diet, to increase their nutritional intakes to prevent any nutritional deficiencies. However, there is some controversy around dietary supplements and their usage so today I’m going to be answering common questions that are asked about supplements.
Should I be taking a supplement?
The best way to get enough nutrients is by eating a varied and balanced diet. For example, having lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can often help one to obtain enough vitamins and minerals.
Although supplements do not require a prescription, it is important to always talk to your health care provider or a registered dietitian to ensure that there are no interactions with your current medications.
Why is getting nutrients from foods better than from supplements?
In dietetics practice, typically we like to administer dietary interventions through food first, before recommending supplements. This is because of food synergy (the concept that different nutrients found in foods work better together than isolated). For example, when someone takes a vitamin C supplement, they are getting adequate Vitamin C from it, but they miss out from extra nutrients that would be found in vitamin C-rich foods such as fruits.
Who is at risk of nutritional deficiencies and when are supplements necessary?
- Those at risk of nutritional deficiencies:
- Women of childbearing age or are pregnant or are lactating
- Breastfed infants (May be at risk for Vitamin D deficiency)
- Older adults
- Critically ill
- Vegans or vegetarians
- When are supplements necessary?
- If you are at risk of nutrient deficiencies and/or cannot obtain certain nutrients from food
- When your healthcare provider or dietitian recommends them
What are the risks and benefits of supplements?
- Some supplements may interact with medications that you are taking
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as most supplements have not been tested on pregnant/breastfeeding women, ensure that you are taking a supplement that is recommended by your doctor or dietitian
- Most supplements will have side effects if taken in large doses
- Be wary of herbal supplements, as many of these supplements are not regulated and have not had enough studies done to prove their efficacy and safety
- Can help prevent nutrient deficiencies and to manage any that you may have
- Are easy to take at any time, and are seen in many different forms (pills, capsules, liquid, powder, etc.)
- Can be good for those who cannot eat enough to get enough nutrients from their food
If you have any concerns or questions about your nutrient intakes, please talk to your healthcare provider or a dietitian about which steps to take next!