Vitamins & Minerals…Do You Know Your ABCs?

Vitamin and mineral supplements not only fill the stores shelves…they fill the news. You may be questioning which dietary supplements you really need.

In this post, I will comment on six popular supplements:

1. B vitamins
Collectively, the B vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12 – can reduce stress and improve mood. Who needs to supplement their B? Three groups of people:

Vegans need the B12 found in meat, chicken, fish, dairy and eggs to prevent anemia and ensure healthy nervous system function.
People 65 and older may need B12 because it becomes hard to absorb from food as we age.
Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive need folic acid to help guard against birth defects.

2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C supplements may shorten the duration and misery of colds but are unlikely to prevent them. Personally, I don’t think people need C on a daily basis, but taking a large dose at the onset of a cold can be helpful.

It’s easy to get vitamin C from fruits and vegetables. But think beyond the orange. That morning glass of orange juice is full of sugar and carbs; look instead for vitamin C from bell peppers, broccoli, papaya and kiwi.

Avoid taking vitamin C with aspirin – both can irritate the stomach. And remember that high doses of Vitamin C may interfere with cholesterol medication.

3. Calcium
Best known for improving bone health, calcium is easy to find in milk, cheese and yogurt. Usually, when we think ‘calcium’ and imagine the cow, but there are plenty of plant-based sources as well, like spinach, kale, and collard greens.

It is important to know which type of calcium supplement you’re taking and when to take it. Calcium citrate can be taken at any time. Calcium carbonate must be taken with food. And because the body can absorb only so much calcium at one time, it’s best to take half in the morning and half at night.

4. Vitamin D
This is the supplement most healthcare providers recommend. Important for bone and muscle health, vitamin D is difficult to find in natural food sources. Fortified dairy products, cereals and breads usually don’t provide enough vitamin D. Sunshine – the other source of D – can be scarce.

Vitamin D, which works with calcium, is important for women as they age to prevent bones from becoming fragile. “Women often take a calcium supplement that has vitamin D in it. I recommend additional vitamin D to further increase vitamin D levels. Vitamin D3 is better absorbed than vitamin D2.

A Cleveland Clinic study recently found that vitamin D is best absorbed when taken with the largest meal of the day — preferably one containing healthy fats because vitamin D is fat-soluble.

5. Vitamin E
Daily vitamin E supplementation has been touted for preventing cancer and heart disease. However, a large, seven-year national study by Cleveland Clinic experts proved that men who took vitamin E every day actually increased their risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent. The longer the supplement was taken, the higher their risk.

The message: For most men, taking vitamin E supplements may do more harm than good.

Other studies have failed to show that vitamin E supplements protect against heart disease. For heart health, it’s safer to get vitamin E from dietary sources – safflower, sunflower and wheat germ oils; nuts and seeds; olives; and green veggies.

At high doses, vitamin E supplements act like a blood thinner and can increase the risk of bleeding.

6. Magnesium
Magnesium, the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, can help with muscle cramps, migraines and sleep problems. People are often deficient in magnesium and don’t realize it. Almonds, soy products and pumpkin seeds are great dietary sources of magnesium. Magnesium is typically found in calcium supplements to enhance absorption.

Benefits may not add up
A growing body of research seems to reinforce the role of dietary supplements as just that: supplements to our diet, taken to correct a deficiency.

The bottom line is to get most of your vitamins and minerals from dietary sources rather than from a pill. The majority of us don’t need to spend a lot of money on supplements. The best way to get enough vitamins is to follow a healthy diet that includes a wide range of fruits and vegetables.

A word on multivitamins
What if you aren’t consistently eating a well-balanced diet? A multivitamin is good for most adults who are not getting all the nutrients that they need every day.

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