The Lowdown on Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamins are substances that our bodies need to develop and function. They activate enzymes that participate in building bone and muscle, energy production, fighting infections, and maintaining healthy nerves and vision. Vitamins fall into two categories: water-soluble and fat- soluble. Water-soluble vitamins are a necessary part of our daily diet – and they include vitamin C, and eight B-complex vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are also needed daily and the body can store them longer-term. They include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Minerals help with bodily processes and are categorized into major minerals (those needed in high amounts daily) and trace minerals (those needed in smaller amounts per day). While little amounts of trace minerals are needed, they are still vital!  Examples of major minerals are calcium and magnesium, and examples of trace minerals are iron and zinc.

SPOILER ALERT: most people do NOT need to take vitamins in the form of a pill or a gummy!

You heard that correctly! There are a lot of mixed messages about who should take vitamins and minerals, which ones should be taken, or whether they should be taken at all. Unless you have a vitamin deficiency or your healthcare provider recommends supplementation, you likely do not need to take supplements. Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need through a balanced and healthy diet and they’re better absorbed this way, too, which is why it is so important to eat a diet full of nutrient-dense and diverse foods. Doing so is essential for the body to work properly! Alternatively, taking supplements when you do not need them can actually have negative effects on health – it’s a case of having too much of a good thing. For instance: too much vitamin C can cause canker sores in the mouth. And the opposite is true, too: the vitamin capsule may pass straight through you without being absorbed. 

Some supplements, called multivitamins, contain several vitamins and minerals mixed together as opposed to just one. Not all multivitamins are created equal and some actually contain more vitamins and minerals than you need to take. So, it is important to pay attention to your specific deficiency and what is in the supplement you have chosen. 

The research on most multivitamins is questionable – there’s not proof they prevent disease and they do not work as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. They are great to fill nutritional gaps , though, for people with a specific deficiency! 

Most kids and teens do not need vitamin and mineral supplements. Most of the time, elderly people, individuals with weak immune systems, and pregnant women are the target group for supplementation. Also, girls with heavy periods may need more iron than they usually get, so if you are not getting enough iron through diet then supplementation may be helpful.

If you and your healthcare provider have determined that you need a vitamin supplement, remember that each individual is different and recommendations vary based on personal health and diet, age, gender and other medications. All to say: vitamin and mineral supplementation is not a one-size-fits-all prescription. So in addition to following the directions of your healthcare provider, it is essential to pay attention to the labels on your supplements including looking for the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) seal that indicates the supplement was tested and is safe for use.

So, how can you include vitamins and minerals in your diet naturally without supplementation? The chart below outlines what foods contain specific vitamins and minerals, and why they are important!

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