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Are You Getting the Right Nutrients From Supplements? 15 Things to Consider

Supplements cover a vast group including vitamins, herbs, protein powders and other products claiming to add value to your diet. But are they really adding value? With so much misleading information out there it is important to consider some key aspects of supplement use.

Many people take supplements usually in the attempt to improve their nutrition, or to compensate for things in the diet that they might be lacking. More than 1/3 of people in the US take dietary supplements according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However there continues to be a vast amount of misinformation presented to the public on the actual benefits of supplements. Supplements can include herbs, enzymes, botanicals, hormones, minerals, vitamins, extracts, and concentrates. Many claim to improve athletic performance, protect from diseases, improve health and fix problems like depression but there is limited evidence to support these claims and limited regulations to ensure product standardization.

Supplements and minerals should never be taken as a replacement for nutritious healthy food. Or to excuse away poor dietary choices. Science has only shown that when supplements are taken at appropriate dosages they may offer some health benefits for a few conditions.

Before you turn to using supplements keep in mind the following;

  1. Does this product have any safety risks?
  2. What is the proper dose to for me?
  3. How, when, and for how long should it be taken? Some nutrients are better absorbed or limited with consumed with others.
  4. Food is still the best way to provide the phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals and with a balanced diet, you should not require extra vitamins and minerals.
  5. Although important to identify, seals of approval do not guarantee that a supplement is safe or effective.
  6. A nutritious diet cannot be replaced by supplements alone.
  7. Don't take supplements in place of, or in combination with, prescribed medications without your health care provider's approval- supplements can be very concentrated and potentially dangerous with certain medications.
  8. Do the supplements contain fat-soluble or water soluble vitamins? Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins and are stored in your body and high levels of these can lead to toxicity in the body. Excessive intake of water-soluble vitamins can cause diarrhea, nausea and other negative health effects.
  9. How much can your body really utilize? Despite claims to provide you with 200% of your Daily Value (DV) for a specific nutrient, your body may not be able to use any more than a small amount. You will just urinate out the excess that your body cannot use, thus paying a lot of money for nutrients that you did not utilize!
  10. What are the potential health benefits or consequences of this dietary supplement product?
  11. Avoid supplements that boast ‘high potency’, when the dose is greater than your daily needs, there can be harmful effects.
  12. In the US, dietary supplements are not required to be standardized. In fact, no legal or regulatory definition exists in the United States for standardization as it applies to dietary supplements, so the meaning may be different for each manufacturer. Therefore just because a product says it is "standardized", does not necessarily indicate the quality of the product.
  13. There is no evidence to prove that multivitamin and mineral supplements are beneficial or not beneficial in prevention of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
  14. Supplements are not regulated the same as food or medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not determine whether dietary supplements are effective before they are marketed.
  15. Recent investigations into some supplements found that sometimes as much as 80% of the supplements did not contain what the label said it did. In many cases found there were unlisted added fillers that could be potentially dangerous for people with allergies.

Emily DeLacey MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and currently working in Jamaica as a HIV/ AIDS Prevention Specialist. She attended Central Washington University for her Bachelor's Degree in Science and Dietetics and continued on after her internship to Kent State University for her Master's Degree in Science and Nutrition, with a focus on public health and advocacy. She served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi 2012-2014 working as a Community Health Advisor in a rural village, immersing in the joys of life without electricity or running water. She has been to 20+ countries and 47 of the 50 states in the US. Traveling, adventuring and experiencing new cultures has made her a passionate advocate for the equality of nutrition and wellness for all people.

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