Should You Take Supplements?
The aim of the DRIs, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and MyPlate is to guide you in meeting your nutritional needs primarily with food, rather than with vitamin and mineral supplements. Supplements lack the potentially beneficial synergistic balance of nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber that is found only in whole foods. Most Americans can get the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a varied, nutritionally balanced diet.
Over the past two decades, high-dose supplement use has been promoted as a way to prevent or delay the onset of many diseases, including heart disease and several forms of cancer. These claims remain controversial. According to the
latest research, a balanced diet of whole foods not high-dose supplementation is the best way to promote health and prevent disease.
In setting the DRIs, the Food and Nutrition Board recommended supplements of particular nutrients for the following groups:
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• Women who are capable of becoming pregnant should take 400 micrograms (pg) per day of folic acid (the synthetic form of the vitamin folate) from fortified foods and/or supplements in addition to folate from a varied diet. Research indicates that this level of folate intake will reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Enriched breads, flours, corn meals, rice, noodles, and other grain products are fortified with folic acid. Folate is found naturally in green leafy vegetables, legumes, oranges, and strawberries.
• People over age 50 should eat foods fortified with vitamin B-12, take B-12 supplements, or both to meet the majority of the DRI of 2.4 pg of B-12 daily. Up to 30% of people over 50 may have problems absorbing protein-bound B-12 in foods.
• Because of the oxidative stress caused by smoking, smokers should get 35 mg more vitamin C per day than the RDA set for their age and sex. However, supplements are not usually needed because this extra vitamin C can easily be found in foods. For example, an 8-ounce glass of orange juice has about 100 mg of vitamin C.
Supplements may also be recommended in other cases. Women with heavy menstrual flows may need extra iron. Older people, people with dark skin, and people exposed to little sunlight may need extra vitamin D. Some vegetarians may need supplemental calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B-12, depending on their food choices. Other people may benefit from supplementation based on their lifestyle, physical condition, medicines, or dietary habits.
Although dietary supplements are sold over the counter, the question of whether to take supplements is a serious one.
Food choices and portion control are key factors in weight management.
Some vitamins and minerals are dangerous when ingested in excess, as described previously in Tables 8.4 and 8.5. Large doses of particular nutrients can also cause health problems by affecting the absorption of other vitamins and minerals or interacting with medications. For all these reasons, you should think carefully about whether to take high-dose supplements; and consult a physician or registered dietitian.
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