Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Choose a quality supplement for your nutrient needs – not all “vitamins” are the same

Are you looking for good supplements to accent your diet?  Many of us seek pills to take to try to make up for deficiencies in a not-so-perfect diet.

While eating nutritious food and beverages is the tried and true best standard for getting  all the nutrients we need to keep us well, sometimes dietary supplements add a needed nutrient boost that may be difficult to achieve from your usual diet.

Take for instance vitamin D.  Many of us fall short with vitamin D intake and end up with too-low levels in our bloodstream.  While you can make it in your body with the right sun exposure, it is difficult here in North Carolina, especially in the wintertime.  Since low levels can lead to poor calcium absorption in our bones and may also be detrimental to immunity and other bodily functions, it is important to be sure we get enough.  

If you are low in vitamin D, you would certainly want to know which supplements are best.  Same goes for other nutrients.  Some of the most popular (in addition to vitamin D) include omega-3 fatty acids (often achieved through fish oil supplements), a regular multivitamin, vitamin C and calcium.   To know what is best for you, work with your doctor or dietitian to determine if your body would benefit from the addition of any dietary supplements.

When selecting a high quality supplement, consider several things before purchasing: (1) look for the USP (US Pharmacopeia) symbol on the label to indicate quality and independent testing (www.usp.org); (2) avoid artificial colors – especially in children’s supplements.  Read the ingredients label to be sure to avoid things like Red #40 and Blue #1; (3) avoid artificial flavors; (4) go online to www.consumerlab.com to see if the brand you are considering has been tested for potency and is free of contaminants; (5) Don’t go for supplements that contain well above the 100% daily value (DV) for nutrients per serving, unless recommended by your doctor; (6) Don’t start taking a supplement just because all your friends are – make sure the supplements you choose are carefully selected by you and your healthcare team for your individual needs.  Some supplements negatively interact with each other so it is essential you understand what you should and should not take; (7) if you have food sensitivities, ensure your supplements meet your needs – some are gluten free, all natural and contain no traces of nuts; and (8) always check the expiration date!

As far as brands go, there are a lot of great brands out there.  Some are pricey and some are inexpensive.  Higher cost does not always guarantee a better product when it comes to vitamins.  However, it is a good idea to research the company of the brand you are considering.  Sometimes, store brands are just as effective as name brands.   

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