Vitamins: Test Your Supplements Savvy (cont.)

If you're a vegetarian, your particular diet determines what supplements you may need. Vegans, who eat no animal products, should pay special attention to protein, iron, zinc, calcium, riboflavin, vitamins D, B-12, and A, and iodine. According to an American Dietetic Association position paper, a well-planned eating plan -- which may include supplements -- can meet your requirements for these nutrients. Seek the services of a registered dietitian to ensure your vegetarian diet is adequate.

2. True or false: Everyone can benefit from a once-daily multivitamin/multi-mineral supplement.

Answer: True. A basic multivitamin, selected for your age and sex, provides an array of vitamins and minerals to fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet. Most multivitamin pills provide up to 100% of the Daily Value for the nutrients they include. But there are exceptions: calcium and magnesium are too bulky to include 100% in a multivitamin.

If you don't eat three daily servings of dairy or use calcium-fortified foods, you probably need to take additional calcium. But most healthy diets that include spinach, legumes, fish, and nuts provide enough magnesium.

3. True or false: Supplementing your diet with a daily multivitamin and eating enriched or fortified foods is safe.

Answer: True. The choice is yours. Very few enriched or fortified foods on the market contain 100% of the Daily Value for nutrients. "There is a margin of safety built into vitamin and mineral requirements, and most safe upper limits allow for consumers to take a multi and enjoy fortified foods," says Blumberg.

4. True or false: Vitamins and minerals can expire.

True. All supplement bottles are required to carry an expiration date. Check the date and make sure you'll be able to finish the bottle before it expires. You may want to buy your multivitamins in smaller quantities.

5. True or false: Supplement marketers can make health claims without approval from the FDA.

Answer: True. Dietary supplements are regulated under a 1994 law exempting them from the same scrutiny applied to drugs. As a result, there are no guarantees about the safety, effectiveness, or validity of the claim.

6. True or false: Herbal remedies improve the quality of vitamin and mineral supplements.

Answer: False. Botanical ingredients aren't needed on a daily basis like vitamins and minerals are. Herbal remedies are condition-specific. If you want to take a botanical, use it in response to the particular condition, not like a daily multivitamin (and don't forget to check with your doctor first). Also be sure to check the label. Many supplements contain too small a dose of botanicals to offer any benefit, says Blumberg.

7. True or false: You can be healthy at any age without taking supplements.

Answer: True. There's no question about it: you can get all the nutrients you need from a healthy eating plan. The problem is that most of us don't, even with the best of intentions. For nutritional insurance, do your best to eat a healthful diet and make it a habit to take a daily multi.

8. What time of day should you take supplements?

a. Before breakfast
b. With meals
c. Before bed

Answer: b. Blumberg recommends taking supplements with meals -- ideally, with the largest meal of the day -- to maximize absorption and minimize stomach upset. But, he adds, whatever time of day you're most likely to remember to consistently take your supplement is the best time for you.

9. True or false: Supplements can boost your energy.

Answer: False. Despite some label claims, the only way to get energy is from carbohydrates, proteins, or fats (or even alcohol). Vitamins and minerals do not provide energy. Blumberg's advice is to stick to a basic multivitamin and avoid supplements with added botanicals or herbs that claim to boost energy.

10. True or false: Athletes need special supplements to enhance their performance.

Answer: False. Athletes who eat enough calories to cover their nutritional needs will get all the nutrients they need in their diets, Blumberg says. "There is relatively little evidence that athletic performance can be enhanced with additional vitamins or minerals," he says.

Published Aug. 25, 2005.

SOURCES: Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol 103: pp 748-765. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2005. Tallmadge, K. Diet Simple, 2004, LifeLine Press. Katherine Tallmadge, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Diet Simple. Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition, Tufts University.

©2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 8/25/2005 10:12:16 PM

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