Do I Need Supplements?
Source: General Conference Nutrition Council
Are Vitamins And Minerals Necessary?
Claims and counterclaims for nutritional supplements vie for the consumerís dollar. Is one supplement better than another? Are they of any benefit? Do you need them?
Most supplements are single vitamins, minerals, or a combination of both. These are just two of the categories of nutrients that are essential to health. Most supplements are missing carbohydrate, protein, fat, and water; not to mention the non-nutrients of fiber and phytochemicals. All of these essentials and nonessentials are packaged in the foods we typically eat.
Become An Informed Consumer
Ask four simple questions before you buy into health claims for a supplement:
- Who said it? Does the degree or training of the speaker support credibility as a spokesperson for the claim?
- Where was it read? Choose scientifically peer-reviewed sources. When other authorities in the field agree with the claim it is more reliable.
- Who profits from the sale? Most vitamin preparations come from one manufacturer, yet the price varies according to who put the label on the bottle.
- Who funded the research on the supplement? What is the gain to the researcher?
Supplements Can Be Unhealthy
Too much for too long, especially of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, can build to toxic levels. Some may see supplements as protective from daily bad food choices and justify continuing bad choices. Or supplements may be viewed as health insurance and delay seeking medical care. Athletes may choose protein supplements to build muscle, when in reality, only hard work does that. The typical diet provides close to twice the recommended dietary allowance of protein. Too much protein can be unhealthy.
Myths Surround Food
While some believe food lacks nutrients, it does not. Some believe supplements provide energy or enhance performance, but they do not. Stress cannot be cured by supplements; prayer is more helpful. Supplements cannot cure disease, such as cancer, heart disease, and the common cold.
Choosing single nutrients to excess impacts the use of other nutrients. Too much zinc hinders the absorption of copper and calcium; too much iron hinders zinc absorption and too much calcium hinders magnesium and iron absorption. These are just some of the relationships among nutrients.
New products come to market often with health claims. Nutraceuticals, pharmafoods, functional foods, and designer foods are all new terms meant to alert the consumer to new - and better Ė means of assuring health. The first two usually make claims to benefit health, and prevent or treat disease. The latter two are usually bioengineered to add or enhance disease-preventing substances in the food. Fruits and vegetables that have been dehydrated and formed into a pill is one example of a designer food claiming to take the place of natural foods an individual intakes. Donít waste your money. Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables have no equal.
Supplements are helpful in some instances:
- Folic acid throughout the childbearing years;
- A single dose of vitamin K at birth;
- Iron for heavy menstruation;
- Calcium for lactose intolerance, milk avoidance, or prevention/treatment of osteoporosis;
- Vitamin B12 for those over 50, total vegetarians, and/or those with pernicious anemia;
- Water-soluble vitamins for those on renal dialysis;
- Vitamin D for those who avoid milk, spend little time in the sun, or live in Northern climates;
- Iodine, as iodized salt, where iodine-containing food is rarely available; and
- Fluoride, for communities where the water has low levels.
Meal replacement supplements (Ensure, Sustacal, Carnation Instant Breakfast) may be helpful for those who are not eating adequately, (anorexia nervosa sufferers, some who are elderly, or others).
Only two claims may be printed on a supplement label and even these must include the word "may" as in: Folate may reduce neural tube defects;" and "Calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis".
The "Gold Standard" for healthful eating remains good food chosen in the quantities recommended by the Vegetarian Food Pyramid. (Call 1-800-548-8700 to order a copy.) Choose foods in the number and size of servings that are appropriate for your age, gender, and activity level. Seek out a professional (R.D., M.D.) to assess your current nutritional status. If you need a supplement, a professional will identify which one you need. Taking vitamin C when you need calcium is not helpful and a waste of money.
A lifetime of food choices has more to do with health than a combination of/or single nutrients purchased in pill, powder, or liquid form. Choose to stop smoking, exercise, and enjoy good food.
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