A Dietitian’s Guide To Vitamins:
Magic Pill or Money Maker
by Jenna Romanelli

The endless options of vitamin supplements available and on the market can be overwhelming. Do we need to take vitamin supplements? Are vitamin supplements beneficial for our health? Which ones really work? Are they worth the money?

Do you find yourself standing in the supplement aisle of the grocery store overwhelmed and confused? Trust me, you are not alone. The combination of endless options and social media/marketing leaves shoppers with empty wallets, overflowing medicine cabinets, and the illusion of “healthy.” So, I am here to help you decipher if any of the 29,000 available supplements have sufficient benefits that outweigh the cost.

As a Registered Dietitian, I often get asked about vitamin supplements. Are multivitamins necessary? What do you think about “green” powders? Do I need to take a probiotic? Or my favorite…[insert celebrity or athlete] takes [supplement], so it must be good for me right?

The best way to make sure you are meeting your body’s vitamin and mineral needs is through food. A balanced diet is key! Focus on whole foods, a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. Some nutrients are difficult to get from food alone. There are circumstances and populations with increased needs when supplementation is appropriate and, at times, necessary.

Vitamin D plays a role in calcium absorption, which impacts bone health. Adequate amounts may be difficult to get from food alone (eggs, fatty fish, fortified milk products). The best source of vitamin D is the sun; abundantly available to us in South Florida, year-round. However, if you don’t go outside often or spend time in colder climates, vitamin D is recommended (1,000 to 2,000 IU).

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development and heart health. They are essential nutrients that we must consume from food or supplements. Fish and seafood such as salmon, tuna and mackerel contain the main types of omega 3’s known as DHA and EPA. Other sources of omega 3’s include walnuts, chia and flax. If you don’t consume fatty fish regularly, you may benefit from omega-3 supplementation (1,000-1,500 mg).

Multivitamins are arguably the most used supplement to “top off” nutrient in take. A multi-vitamin may not be necessary, but there are certain circumstances, populations and individuals who may benefit from taking a multivitamin.

The benefits of a multivitamin in healthy adults who eat a well-balanced diet are minimal, if any at all. Consuming a perfectly balanced diet every single day is unrealistic for most individuals, including myself. The chaos of life – busy schedules, traveling, work, stress, life events, change in seasons, and relationships are just some of the factors that may alter nutrient intake in healthy adults. If this sounds like you, then supplementing with a multivitamin could be exactly what your body needs!
Multivitamin supplementation may benefit populations at risk for deficiency, such as pregnant and lactating women; older adults with decreased intake; people with poor absorption, digestive conditions, alcoholism, or certain medications; and vegans/vegetarians.

How do you know which supplements to purchase? The FDA does not regulate supplements before reaching the shelves to be sold. My supplement recommendations are supported by evidenced-based research, third-party tested and certified by USP, NSF, or Consumer Lab. Look for these certifications on the label to ensure quality. Next time you are shopping for supplements, consider some of these brands: Garden of Life, Thorne, Pure Encapsulations, Nature Made.

It is important to note that nutrition is not a perfect science. A well-balanced diet supersedes vitamin supplementation in most situations – focus on quality of food instead of quantity of vitamin supplements. Always talk to your health care provider before taking any new supplements. Meet with a Registered Dietitian if you are interested in learning more about your vitamin needs and to receive individualized recommendations.