- Find out how nutrient deficiencies occur
- Get details on why dietary supplements are an important consideration
- Discover whether a multivitamin or specific supplements are best for you
- Learn how to identify high-quality supplements that are worth the money
Our bodies need essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to survive and live a long and healthy life. We get these essentials from the foods we eat, but sometimes, we have limited access to all the foods we need to get a balance of the right nutrients every day. When this happens, we often turn to supplements. While supplements are not a replacement for a healthy, balanced diet, they are a way to fill gaps and boost nutrient intake where we may be deficient.
Let’s talk about dietary supplements, whether you need them, how to supplement, and how to choose the best supplements for your individual needs.
Why are dietary supplements necessary?
Nutrient deficiency is not just a problem in developing countries. While there is an overabundance of food in the U.S., there is also an abundance of hunger, an abundance of nutritional deficiencies, and widespread limited access to nutrient-rich foods for many.
Nutrient gaps exist in developed countries and affect anyone along the socio-economic spectrum, people across all fitness levels, and in every region. In 2017, it was reported that 31% of the U.S. population was at risk of at least one nutrient deficiency.
You may be asking yourself why over a third of the United States is facing such a crisis or malnourishment. Maybe you feel like you try to eat a reasonably balanced diet, but still, feel like you’re lacking energy and aren’t getting what you need from your food. There are a number of reasons for the lack of quality nutrient content in American diets, and it may not be your fault.
- Calorie-dense, heavily processed, sugar added, nutrient-depleted foods, such as refined flours and industrial seed oils, account for many undernourished diets in the United States.
- Diet essentials, such as vegetables and fruits, are either missing or make up a fraction of the average American’s diet compared to a few decades ago. The heavy focus on carbohydrates and fatty foods contribute to undernourished dietary intake.
- Modern agricultural methods deplete the soil of nutrients and expose eaters to pesticides. Low nutrient soil means low nutrient, diluted foods. Food composition is a direct reflection of the conditions under which they are grown.
- The gut is often called the body’s second brain because of its significant impact and influence on overall health, including mental health. Gut microbes facilitate nutrient absorption. When the gut microbiota is compromised, deficiencies, among other problems, are the result. Restoring balance to the microbiome can help resolve nutrient deficiencies.
- For some, food allergies and intolerances can create such limitations on food intake that their diets result in nutrient deficiencies.
- Lastly, many people participate in diets, particularly fad diets, that are meant to help them lose weight or build muscle. Those diets often lack balance and the nutrient variety necessary to ensure eaters are healthy and won’t face nutrient gaps and deficiencies.
For these reasons and many more, dietary supplements have become increasingly important to Americans’ everyday nutritional intake. Nutritional supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet, but they can help to fill the nutrient gaps and can optimize the benefits of the food you do eat.
Is it good to take a daily multivitamin?
There is a lot to consider when answering the question about whether a daily multivitamin is a good idea. It’s a good idea to establish the best possible diet first. Then identify specific vitamins and minerals that may be lacking.
For some, getting their daily recommended allowance of iron may be difficult to achieve, so supplementation may be a good choice to help fill that gap.
For others, vitamin B may be lacking and difficult to achieve with diet alone, so supplementation of that particular vitamin or set of vitamins may be helpful.
Digestive enzymes may also be useful because they can help you optimize your ability to absorb the nutrients in your food.
Multivitamins can help to fill the gaps. However, it can be helpful to focus on optimizing your diet and identifying specific vitamins to supplement. Multivitamins are a general approach to supplementation that can be sloppy. They may give you just enough of one vitamin but can have too much of other vitamins, which can cause other problems.
In an article on the benefits of multivitamins from Johns Hopkins, multivitamins are considered unnecessary. “Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases,” says Larry Appel, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research. “Other nutrition recommendations have much stronger evidence of benefits—eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar you eat.”
For those who do choose to take a multivitamin, it is vital that you choose something that will support the variety of changing and complex needs your body will have at any given time. Activity level, environmental factors, food intolerances, genetics, life stage, the season, and underlying health conditions all play a role in what our body needs and how you may choose to supplement those needs.
One of the best ways to decide whether a multivitamin is a good choice for you is to discuss options with your physician. If you’re worried about not getting enough vitamins and minerals, or getting too much of something, your doctor will be able to test for each and give you specific guidance. Your physician will also be able to take into account the complexities of age, lifestyle, and other influences on your nutrient intake.
How many supplements should I take a day?
For those who decide to supplement their diet, the best approach is to identify gaps and stick to supplementing those specific areas of need. Taking the wrong supplements can lead to overdoing it, which can make you sick.
For example, if you go dairy-free, you could be missing out on calcium and vitamin D. However, if you are getting plenty of vitamin D and choose to supplement it as well, you could end up with too much. Those who take too much vitamin D can experience toxicity side effects such as nausea, vomiting, calcium build-up in the blood, bone pain, kidney problems, and, in rare cases, mental illness.
It’s best to minimize the vitamins you take to avoid toxicity and potentially harmful side effects.
How do I choose the right high-quality supplement?
When choosing the right supplements, analyzing your diet for gaps in nutrients will be an important step. Your physician can order blood tests to help you confirm suspicions and get specific about your needs.
Beyond identifying gaps, choosing the right supplement means selecting something that will deliver the best results. Choosing a supplement because it has a flashy ad doesn’t mean you’ll be getting the quality you need.
When it comes to choosing the right supplement, choosing high-quality supplements is crucial.
- Choose plant-based supplements because your body more easily assimilates them.
- Go with non-GMO, organic vitamins whenever possible that are free from chemicals, artificial ingredients, preservatives, soy, gluten, dairy, wheat, and fillers, all of which can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and cause harm to your gut microbiome.
- Where appropriate, choose high-potency supplements to help ensure optimum access to nutrients.
- Double-check that your supplements are made in an FDA-certified facility, so you have the confidence that minimum quality standards are either met or exceeded.
- Look for the badge that indicates the supplements are GMP certified. GMP stands for goods manufacturing practices, which indicates the manufacturer has demonstrated a strong regulatory commitment and compliance to international standards.
- Check to see whether the supplements company stands by their products. Most companies will be willing to provide a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) for their products on request. CoAs provide information on each product’s adherence to finished-product specifications by batch.
Many American lifestyles, including athletes, those across socio-economic spectrums, and dietary choices, such as plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan, regularly face significant nutrient gaps and deficiencies.
While supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet, even healthy diets can result in deficiencies.
Supplements are a reliable way to bolster vitamins and minerals. However, consumers need to choose high-quality supplements such as sources that are plant-based, non-GMO, high-potency, filler-free, FDA-approved, and more.
Above all, plant enzymes supplements are an essential part of the implementation process. They ensure optimal gut health and are particularly helpful to those who are maintaining a plant-forward diet.
Living a long, healthy, and happy life is possible when you supplement in a meaningful, valuable way so your body can access and process everything it needs.
- 31% of U.S. at risk of at least one nutrient deficiency: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537775/
- Ultra-processed diets https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/3/e009892
- Vegetables and fruits missing from the American diet https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/13/whats-on-your-table-how-americas-diet-has-changed-over-the-decades/
- Food composition https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15637215/
- Gut microbes and nutrient absorption https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099351/