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Vitamin and Mineral Supplements VS. Food

Supplements or food? Which one is more beneficial for you? Usually if you are eating the types and amounts of food that the Canadian Food Guide recommends it should provide you the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. On the other hand, some people do need specific supplements to meet their nutrient needs. So how do you know if you are that person? How do you know if you’re getting enough in your diet? These days, it's hard to know which direction to go with what we read and hear in the media.

What’s a dietary supplement?

As per Health Canada and the FDA, a dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet. A "dietary ingredient" may be one, or any combination, of the following substances: vitamin, mineral, herb or other botanical and amino acid. Some dietary supplements can help ensure that you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients; others may help you reduce your risk of deficiency.

Who could benefit from supplements?

Who?Which nutrient?Why?
Women of childbearing ageFolic acidPrevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida
Pregnant womenFolic acid and IronPrevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Also, increases iron needs.
Men and women over the age of 50Vitamin B12 and DAbsoprtion decreases with age
Vegetarians or VegansVitamin B12, D and calciumA well planned vegetarian or vegan diet will meet your nutrient needs. But they may need to take supplements of certain nutrients that can be difficult to obtrain from diet alone.
People who smokeVitamin CNeeds increase
People on hemodialysis Hydrosoluble vitamin (C, Bs, folate, biotin)Some are lost in the process of dialysis
People with medical conditions. Example: osteoporisis and anemia 
People with restricted diets. Example: poor appetite, food allergies or very low calorie diet

Why should we prioritize food first?

Supplements are not intended as a substitute to food. They do not contain calories and can’t replace the nutrients and benefits that food provides. Food not only provides you vitamins and minerals but it also gives you energy from carbohydrates, fats and protein.  Did you know that vitamin B helps convert energy from these food components into a type of energy your body can use?

Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate such as fibre). For example, a red pepper does not only contain vitamin C. It also has vitamin A, B6, magnesium and potassium. If you only take a vitamin C supplement you would miss out on the other complimentary nutrients that a red pepper contains.

Tips to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals:

  • Eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetable
  • Eat whole grain products
  • Eat a wide variety of protein (fish, poultry, meat, eggs and beans which are also high in fibre)
  • Eat 2-3 portions of dairy products daily (milk, yogurt, cheese)

Consider the following if you want to take supplements:

 Large doses of vitamins or mineral supplements can be dangerous. Vitamin A, E, D, niacin, calcium, iron, and selenium are particularly toxic in high doses. You should always talk to your physician or Registered Dietitian about your particular needs and eating pattern before taking any supplements. You likely won’t need supplements if your diet is adequate to meet your daily recommendation in vitamins and minerals.

Resources

Dietitians of Canada. (November 2013). Do I Need a Vitamin or Mineral Supplement?. Retrieved May 2015, from http://www.dietitians.ca

Eat Right Ontario. (n.d.). Vitamins and Minerals FAQs. Retrieved May 2015, from https://www.eatrightontario.ca

Food and Drug Administration. (April 2015). What is a dietary supplements?, Retrieved May 205, from http://www.fda.gov

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