The majority of adults in the United States take one or more dietary supplements either every day or occasionally. Today's dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbals and botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, and many other products. Dietary supplements come in a variety of forms: traditional tablets, capsules, and powders, as well as drinks and energy bars. Popular supplements include vitamins D and E; minerals like calcium and iron; herbs such as echinacea and garlic; and specialty products like glucosamine, probiotics, and fish oils.
Part of the reason why so many women fail to get the amount of iron they need is because one of the best sources of iron is red meat (especially liver) which also contains high levels of saturated fat. While leafy green vegetables and beans are also good sources of iron—and don’t contain high levels saturated fat—the iron from plant foods is different to the iron from animal sources, and not absorbed as well by the body. Other foods rich in iron include poultry, seafood, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, and iron-fortified cereals, breads, and pastas.
Eat a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats at each meal and choose foods rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. A good way to do this is to fill your plate with 3–4 food groups at each meal. Eat a combination of protein-rich foods, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and incorporate the groups you miss into other meals and snacks throughout the day. Stick to healthy portions — see our Essential Guide to Portion Sizes for tips.
Look for supplements certified by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or the United Natural Products Alliance, as it indicates a higher standard of quality assessment. (The USP's screening process, for instance, ensures that a product will break down properly and effectively release its ingredients into the body.) These organizations have a certification seal that is typically shown on the product packaging.
The dietary supplements industry in the United Kingdom (UK), one of the 28 countries in the bloc, strongly opposed the Directive. In addition, a large number of consumers throughout Europe, including over one million in the UK, and various doctors and scientists, had signed petitions by 2005 against what are viewed by the petitioners as unjustified restrictions of consumer choice. In 2004, along with two British trade associations, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) had a legal challenge to the Food Supplements Directive referred to the European Court of Justice by the High Court in London.
Talk to your doctor before you begin taking a dietary supplement. They can tell you about the benefits and risks of each supplement. Make sure they know about anything you already take. This includes all medicines, prescription and over-the-counter. Some of these can interact with supplements. Read the ingredient list to make sure you know what else is in them. Do not take more than the recommended dosage on the label, unless your doctor approves it. Just because a supplement is advertised as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Eat in smaller plates. Science says that eating on a large plate tricks your brain into thinking that you haven’t eaten enough. Eat on a smaller plate to feel full quicker and avoid overeating. Moreover, the color of your plate could impact your food intake as well. According to a study conducted by Cornell University, people eat less when there is a higher color contrast between the plate and the food. If the color contrast between the two is lower, we tend to eat more. For instance, if you eat pasta with alfredo sauce on a white plate, you’ll probably eat more as compared to eating in, say, a blue plate.
Vitamins are micronutrients, or substances that the body uses in small amounts, as compared to macronutrients, which are the proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that make up all food. Vitamins are present in food, but adequate quantities of vitamins may be reduced when food is overcooked, processed, or improperly stored. For instance, processing whole wheat grain into white flour reduces the contents of vitamins B and E, fiber, and minerals, including zinc and iron. The body requires vitamins to support its basic biochemical functions, and deficiencies over time can lead to illness and disease.
On a related note, if you’re thinking “I’ll just put less food on my plate” … it’s not that simple. The picture below explains why. When you eat a small portion off of a large plate, your mind feels unsatisfied. Meanwhile, the same portion will feel more filling when eaten off of a small plate. The circles in the image below are the same size, but your brain (and stomach) doesn’t view them that way.
SOURCES: Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board, Dietary Reference Intakes: "Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluoride." National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1999. Journal of Nutrition, October 2005. Position paper of the American Dietetic Association on Food Fortification and Supplementation, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, August 2005. Michael Holick, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, physiology, and biophysics, Boston University Medical Center. Andrew Shoa, PhD, vice president for regulatory affairs, Council for Responsible Nutrition. Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Tufts University. Dave Grotto, RD, spokesman, American Dietetic Association; author, 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. Eduardo Baetti, MD, rheumatologist; Kaiser Permanente. Patrick Rea, editorial director, Nutrition Business Journal. Kristine Clark, PhD, RD, director of sports nutrition, Penn State University. Vasilios Frankos, PhD, Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, FDA. Sarubin, A. The Health Professionals Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements, American Dietetic Association, Chicago, IL, 2000. FDA. WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Feature: "Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?" National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "Questions and Answers About Homeopathy."
Considering average dietary needs and the prevalence of certain health conditions, some basic guidelines may provide the foundation for the effective use of nutritional supplements. First, a high quality, broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement, taken once per day, is recommended to provide a range of nutrients. This should contain the B-complex vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, which may help prevent heart disease, and the minerals zinc and copper, which aid immunity. In addition to a multivitamin, antioxidants can be added to a supplementation routine. These include vitamin A (or beta-carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E, and the mineral selenium. Antioxidants may have several positive effects on the body, such as slowing the aging process, reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease, and reducing the risks of illness and infection by supporting the immune system. Coenzyme Q10 is another antioxidant in wide usage, as studies have shown it may improve the health of the heart and reduce the effects of heart disease. Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3, are also recommended as they are involved in many important processes in the body, including brain function. Calcium supplementation is recommended for the elderly and for women, to strengthen bones and prevent bone loss. Calcium supplements that are balanced with magnesium have a less constipating effect and are better absorbed.
Generally, nutrients from food sources are more efficiently utilized by the body than isolated substances. For instance, fresh fruit and vegetable juice could be used to provide concentrated amounts of particular nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, to the diet. As another example, eating plenty of leafy green vegetables is a healthy option for those wishing to add calcium to the diet.
I have identified a number of arguments in favor of supplementing the modern diet with essential nutrients, here summarized with 7 headlines. Most people should consider taking a multivitamin supplement containing vitamins and minerals even if they eat a nutritionally balanced diet. Additional nutrients may contribute to better health and, in some cases, can be of vital importance in our modern world. The arguments are presented in random order, i.e. the order does not reflect priority.
Over the period 2008 to 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the United States received 6,307 reports of health problems (identified as adverse events) from use of dietary supplements containing a combination of ingredients in manufactured vitamins, minerals or other supplement products, with 92% of tested herbal supplements containing lead and 80% containing other chemical contaminants. Using undercover staff, the GAO also found that supplement retailers intentionally engaged in "unequivocal deception" to sell products advertised with baseless health claims, particularly to elderly consumers. Consumer Reports also reported unsafe levels of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury in several protein powder products. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported that protein spiking, i.e., the addition of amino acids to manipulate protein content analysis, was common. Many of the companies involved challenged CBC's claim.
First, there is the sensation of eating the food. This includes what it tastes like (salty, sweet, umami, etc.), what it smells like, and how it feels in your mouth. This last quality — known as “orosensation” — can be particularly important. Food companies will spend millions of dollars to discover the most satisfying level of crunch in a potato chip. Food scientists will test for the perfect amount of fizzle in a soda. These elements all combine to create the sensation that your brain associates with a particular food or drink.
As with all dietary supplements, in the United States inappropriate label health claims such as preventing or treating disease are opposed by the FDA and deceptive advertisements by the Federal Trade Commission. Probiotic foods and dietary supplements are allowed to make claims using Structure:Function vocabulary as long as human trial evidence is adequate. In 2005, the FDA issued a Warning Letter to UAS Laboratories for disease treatment claims (colds, flu, ulcers, elevated blood cholesterol, colon cancer...). The company revised label and website content and continued to sell the product. In 2011 the company was found to have resumed the label and website claims, and the FDA seized product and stopped production. In 2010 a FTC action was brought against a probiotic food company for exaggerated health claims, resulting in a multimillion-dollar fine and revisions to future advertising. In the European Union a more restrictive approach has been taken by the EFSA. All proposed health claims were rejected on the grounds that the science was not sufficient, and no health claims are permitted. Foods with live microorganisms (yogurt, kefir) can be sold, but without claims.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. People engaging in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium. Sports drinks contain blends of electrolytes (salts) that the body loses during exertion and sweating, as well as vitamins, minerals, and performance-supporting herbs.