The A, B, C of vitamins: Simplifying the world of dietary supplements

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While Americans spend about $30 billion on dietary supplements each year, these products are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration and could be overkill for people who eat healthy diets of nutrient-dense foods.
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Walking through the vitamin aisles at the grocery store, seeing advertisements for personalized supplement packs, and simply considering how you feel day-to-day can lead you to wonder if you should take dietary supplements, which ones and which ones. in what form. There are myriad brands of vitamins on the market, choices between taking several vitamins or a multivitamin each day, and a variety of options for ingesting the pills – vitamins can be swallowed, chewed, dissolved and even eaten as a piece of gum Candy. The choices can be overwhelming, and the fact is that most people don’t need to take extra vitamins at all.

While Americans spend about $30 billion on dietary supplements each year, these products are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration and could be overkill for people who eat healthy diets of nutrient-dense foods.

“Supplements are never a substitute for a balanced, healthy diet,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health. “And they can be a distraction from healthy lifestyle practices that confer far greater benefits.”



Local Expert Annegret Kessler is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at Colorado Mountain Medical. She started working at Vail Health (then Vail Valley Medical Center) in 1985 and has over 35 years of nutrition counseling experience.

During her career, she often turns to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health for information and strongly supports their reviews of supplements. As a nutritionist, Kessler relies on solid, evidence-based research, and she said the data simply doesn’t support the use of supplements.



“You can’t replace a healthy diet with vitamins,” she said. “The food contains more quality ingredients and components than individual vitamins and minerals for the healthy population.”

The “healthy population” is the key group she and other experts refer to when it comes to nutritional intake. This includes your average 40-year-old, your children, and those who may be feeling lazy – all groups to which vitamins are heavily marketed.

On the other hand, there are a few groups of people for whom supplements are necessary. These are people who are at higher risk of not getting enough nutrition from their food – older people who may not have anyone to cook for them; people with food allergies or intolerances that prevent them from getting all the vitamins and minerals they need; people who smoke, drink alcohol to excess, or use drugs because the body needs more nutrients to metabolize these substances; and those with conditions like celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and a variety of gastrointestinal disorders, all of which can cause nutrient malabsorption.

Pregnant women are another special group who need to ensure they have a balanced diet, especially during the first trimester when morning sickness can dampen a woman’s hunger. Additionally, a folic acid supplement is needed to help prevent birth defects.

Finally, men and women looking to lose weight should consider supplements if they are eliminating or limiting specific foods that have nutritional value.

“If you don’t think you’re getting the nutrients you need from food, consider seeing your primary care provider at your next wellness visit,” Kessler advised. “And if you’re going to buy a supplement, make sure it has the USP symbol on it.”

The US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) symbol on supplements verifies that they contain the ingredients listed on the label, in the potency and amounts declared; do not contain harmful levels of specified contaminants; and breaks down and releases in the body within a specified period of time.

“Supplements are never a substitute for a balanced, healthy diet,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.
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Interestingly, none of these high-risk groups include people at risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. No vitamin can cure heart disease or its associated risk factors, including obesity and diabetes. . Instead, Kessler returns to food as medicine. She recommends a plant-based diet, including whole grains, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 52%. DASH (Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets have also received evidence-based support from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association.

“When the data came out on these diets, it was exciting to see that there was finally evidence that, like your mom told you, ‘always eat your vegetables,'” Kessler said. “Vegetables aren’t just a side dish; they are the main course.

So why all the hype and rows of supplements at the grocery store?

“Taking vitamins can have a placebo effect. Also, many multivitamins or vitamin packs on the market contain some amount of B vitamins, which can make you feel like you have more energy,” Kessler says.

B vitamins help the body produce energy from the foods we eat. These vitamins are found in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products and leafy green vegetables.

Kessler summed up, “Vitamins could be very expensive with little benefit.”

So, instead of investing in a medicine cabinet full of supplements, try to focus on eating nutrient-dense foods to ensure you’re getting the recommended dose of vitamins and minerals your body needs.

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