It’s absolutely true that vitamins, minerals and supplements can augment diets to ensure the body gets what it needs to be healthy, energized and more resistant to undesirable health conditions. However, it’s also true that taking too many vitamins can be a bad thing. Not surprisingly, most health experts agree that moderation is the key.
Getting Started With Vitamins & Health Supplements
We recommend meeting with a professional nutritionist to evaluate your family and medical history, current lifestyle, and dietary habits. This is the best way to obtain personalized recommendations about vitamins and health supplements that are safe and make the most sense for you.
For example, if you’ve lived a more sedentary lifestyle and haven’t been eating healthy, recommendations regarding your supplement intake will be different from someone who has eaten healthy and exercised their whole life. Someone who works out regularly may be more interested in workout supplements that increase the rate of muscle repair and increase muscle mass more quickly. Women’s vitamins often focus more heavily on iron, calcium and magnesium content, while vitamins for men will align with the general FDA recommendations for adults.
For now, it’s important to learn the basics of vitamins, what’s healthy and what’s not, and where to start if you’ve never taken health supplements before.
The Difference Between Water-Soluble & Fat-Soluble Vitamins
To start, it’s important to note the difference between water- and fat-soluble vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins are absorbed by the body according to need. Any excess vitamins are excreted via urine. Examples of water-soluble vitamins include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B12
- Folic acid
- Panothenic acid
Even though water-soluble vitamins can be excreted, it’s best to take only what you need and no more.
Fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, cannot be excreted by the body. If the body is inundated with fat-soluble vitamins it doesn’t need, it stores them in fat cells. This can lead to vitamin toxicity.
This is why speaking with a nutritionist or health care professional is a smart first step, ensuring you’ll take the health supplements your body needs.
Vitamins & Health Supplements: What To Take and What To Avoid
The following recommendations regarding vitamins to take and vitamins to avoid are tailored to the average American adult, who eats a reasonably healthy diet; remember that eating a well-rounded, rainbow-colored, healthy diet is the best way to give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
Health supplements are just that: supplements used to augment potential gaps.
Vitamins & Health Supplements To Take
Daily Multivitamin. This is the easiest way to get what you need. With vitamins, you get what you pay for, so look for a medium-level multivitamin, tailored to your sex and stage of life. It should include Vitamins A, C, D, E, potassium, zinc and iodine. If you’re a woman, it should include iron. Avoid taking “super-vitamins” because they may contain harmful levels of vitamins or supplements your body doesn’t need.
Vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for immune system health, vision and bone growth. However, Vitamin A from animals is fat-soluble so look for plant-derived versions, like beta-carotene instead.
Vitamin B. This is an umbrella term that includes a spectrum of vitamins (just like E). They’re important for heart health, metabolism and energy levels.
Vitamin C. This is a wonder-vitamin of sorts, and it’s also water-soluble. It’s important for nearly every function in the human body, including a healthy immune system. That being said, overwhelming evidence shows mega-doses of Vitamin C do not have the miracle effects that some people claim, so stick with daily recommended doses.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and bone growth. Deficiency may also contribute to moodiness and depression. We get Vitamin D naturally from the sun, but covering up, sunglasses and sunscreen all prevent its absorption, so Vitamin D deficiency is increasingly common.
Vitamin E. This is a fat-soluble vitamin that fights free radicals, protects cell membranes and prevents the oxidization of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). Fifty milligrams of a full-spectrum Vitamin E complex is ideal.
Calcium with Magnesium. This is essential for healthy bones and to stave off osteoporosis. Aim to take no more than 500 milligrams per day, and make sure you’re getting Vitamin D via moderate sun exposure or supplements since it’s necessary for Calcium absorption. The addition of magnesium counteracts constipation associated with calcium supplements and helps to prevent leg cramping, disrupted sleep patterns, and even chocolate cravings.
Iodine. Iodine deficiency affects thyroid processes, which can negatively impact metabolic function. Iodized salt has been a highly-touted way to get iodine, but many adults choose to use more mineral-rich salts instead. If you eat a balanced diet, skipping iodized salt is fine because the trace amounts of iodine needed by the body are absorbed via the foods you eat. The small amounts of iodine present in multi-vitamins will serve as your iodine safety net.
Iron. Iron supplementation is tricky. Women need more than men, but too much iron is dangerous. Unless you are anemic and a doctor has recommended specific supplementation, a multi-vitamin iron dose is sufficient.
Omega-3s. These fatty-acids, found in fish and some nuts, are good for the heart, brain and joints. There are three different types, but DHAs are the ones you want.
Potassium. This is vital for the majority of organ systems, and essential for regulating blood pressure, acid levels and fluid levels. Unless advised otherwise, the small amount of potassium available in multi-vitamins is sufficient. Most likely, you’re already getting what you need from fruits, leafy greens and potatoes.
Probiotics. These are naturally occurring, healthy bacteria that live throughout your body, regulating metabolic processes and increasing immune resistance against harmful bacteria. You can ingest probiotics by eating cultured foods containing Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. If you’re on antibiotics, start taking a probiotic supplement to replenish healthy bacteria colonies.
Zinc. Zinc is essential for immune system function, including the production of collagen and cell repair. It’s available via most whole foods. Increasing Zinc intake when exposed to contagions, or when you’re feeling run down, can boost immune function. Aim to get at least 15 mg a day, or more if you don’t eat animal products.
Vitamins & Health Supplements To Avoid Or Use With Caution
Creatine. This is one of the most popular workout supplements on the market. Creatine helps to build muscle-mass. However, taking too much can result in kidney failure. Use creatine in moderation and under the supervision of a health expert.
Yohimbe. This supplement is touted as a natural remedy for sexual dysfunction, but it can also cause heart arrhythmia and high blood pressure.
Soy isolates. Because soy can mimic estrogen in men and women, products with soy lecithin or isolates on the ingredient list should be used in low- to low-moderate doses.
Get Started With Vitamins & Health Supplements
We recommend reading, “The 12 Most Dangerous Supplements…” for more information regarding potential dangers of certain popular health supplements.
In addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise, vitamins and health supplements can be a great way to boost health. However, you should always consult with your health care professional before taking any new supplement to ensure it reflects what your body needs and to prevent any contraindications with current medical conditions and/or prescription medications.
Still have questions? Ask our Registered Dietician Nutritionist, Victoria Tate by calling 804-364-1200 x1224 or email firstname.lastname@example.org today!