Good nutrition and a balanced diet are important for good health. Often when people hear “calcium deficiency” or “bone mineral density” or learn about a new, it makes them wonder if the food they are eating is enough. 

“Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods,” according the Dietary Guidelines for Americans published in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture at health.gov. “Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods … [which] contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects.”

The USDA and HHS publish nutritional guidelines every five years. The next update will be in 2020.

 

Who needs supplements?

The best way to be and stay healthy is to choose a wide variety of nutritious foods from all five of the USDA’s MyPlate food groups (www.choosemyplate.gov). 

Nutrient deficiencies are not common among Americans, but for varying reasons some people cannot reach the recommended nutrient amounts without using supplements or including fortified foods in their diets. In addition to a healthy and balanced diet, those individuals may need nutrient supplements.  

Some people are limited in their food choices because of allergies, a medical condition or because they are following a vegetarian or vegan diet.  

For example, animal protein is the main source of vitamin B12, so people who follow a vegan diet need to eat fortified foods or take a supplement.

Women who are at an age where they could become pregnant need adequate folic acid from fortified foods like cereals and other grains, supplements or both, in addition to consuming folate from foods in a varied diet.  

If lab tests show that a woman’s iron status is low during pregnancy, her health care provider will recommend an iron supplement. Adolescent girls might need additional iron as well.

Vitamin D might be a concern among infants, children and young adults. Infants who are breastfed and children who consume less than the recommended amount of vitamin D fortified mild or formula and those with increased risk of deficiency will likely need supplemental vitamin D. 

On the other side of the spectrum, as people age it can be difficult to get enough vitamins B12 and D. Luckily, this is one of the cases where supplements can make a difference.  

Getting B12 from fortified foods or taking it alone or as part of a multivitamin can help raise B12 levels. If you are taking calcium or a multivitamin, try to pick one that also has vitamin D.

Other groups who may require additional supplementation include people who are taking certain medications or have a health condition that changes how their body uses nutrients, and individuals who have been told by their doctor they have a specific nutrient deficiency.  

Your doctor can order tests to help determine if taking a supplement would benefit you.

Review your current diet. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you evaluate the foods you eat and make recommendations that meet your personal needs. 

Remember, real food contains healthy things a pill cannot give us. Be sure to consider your individual situation and consult a doctor before considering supplements.