Vitamins: How-To Guide for a Healthier Body (cont.)

"If you are not getting enough calcium through your diet, supplements are a good idea," she says. How do you know? Consider that an 8 oz glass of milk or calcium-fortified juice or a cup of yogurt contains about 300 mg.

So take a look at what you are normally eating, and if you are not in the range, consider a supplement, Kimball tells WebMD.

"The obvious thing that calcium does is help to build strong bones and increase bone density," she says. While getting enough calcium is important for just about everyone, people who are still growing and people who are at increased risk of osteoporosis really need their daily doses of this mineral, she says.

Managing Your Magnesium

When Carolyn Dean, ND, MD, of City Island, N.Y., was researching for her latest book, The Miracle of Magnesium, "most doctors said if you could get a person to only take one supplement, make it magnesium."

For sure, those are some fighting words. The Daily Value (DV) for magnesium is around 400 mg. However, most magnesium researchers say we need two to three times this amount, especially for people who have magnesium-deficient conditions including heart disease, muscle cramps, headaches, and muscle pain, says Dean.

According to Dean, as much as 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium because "our soil is magnesium-depleted, cooking and processing removes it from food, and a processed-food diet and many prescription medications causes it to be lost in the urine," says Dean. This deficiency is seen in a host of conditions including asthma, diabetes, kidney disease,andeven migraines.

Kimball agrees with Dean. "Magnesium also helps with calcium absorption, so you need it to help build healthy bones," she says. Magnesium is harder to get through foods, so supplements are usually necessary. Magnesium-rich foods do include almonds, peanuts, brown rice, and cereals like oat bran and shredded wheat.

Buff Up Your Baseline With a Multivitamin

One way to make sure that you get at least the minimum amount of all your vitamins and minerals is to take a multivitamin every day. "There is quite a bit of evidence that multivitamins are important for general health, immunity, and well-being," says clinical nutrition specialist Frederic Vagnini, MD, medical director of Pulse Anti-Aging Center in Scarsdale, N.Y.

That's good counsel, says Victoria Shanta-Retelny, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute in Chicago. "Most people don't get adequate amounts of vitamins in their diet, and processed foods lose vitamins with processing, but multivitamins set you up for a healthy baseline without toxic levels of these vitamins."

Vagnini adds: "Vitamins were traditionally useful in preventing deficiency disease which we don't really see so more in this country," he says, "We don't see things like scurvy, and today vitamins are used to support normal organ and body functions, enhance immunity, improve cardiovascular function, and even prevent cancer."