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Supplements vs. Healthy Diets: Which Is Better for You?

Staying Healthy

Eating a variety of foods is an important way to stay healthy. Food contains nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and water, as well as various vitamins, minerals, and other substances that can keep you healthy. Your body uses all of these to keep your muscles, bones, organs, and other tissues healthy and strong. Eating a mix of nutritious foods can also reduce your risk for many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Dietary supplements are an easy way to add nutrients to your diet. Supplements typically come in the form of pills, powders, or beverages. They usually provide vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, or other nutrients. Some, such as multivitamins or complete nutrition shakes, may provide a combination of nutrients.

Benefits of a Healthy Diet

Experts recommend that healthy people get their vitamins and minerals by eating nutrient-dense foods instead of supplements. Few studies show a clear link between taking supplements and preventing disease — unless those diseases are caused by a nutritional deficiency. So if you’re in good health, you’re better off getting nutrients from food. The vitamins and minerals in foods are often easier for the body to absorb.

Benefits of Supplements

But busy caregivers may not have the time to make healthy meals, or may be caring for someone with little or no appetite. Supplements or fortified foods can help provide nutrients that you or your loved one might be missing, especially if you have:

  • Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Osteoporosis
  • Age-related macular degeneration

If you answer “yes” to any of the questions below, you might benefit from supplements or fortified foods:

  • Do you eat fewer than 2 meals a day?
  • Is your diet restricted? For example, do you not eat meat or dairy, or do you eat fewer than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day?
  • Do you eat most of your meals alone?
  • Have you gained or lost more than 10 pounds in the last 6 months without trying to?
  • Do you take 3 or more medications a day?
  • Do you have 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • Are you in menopause or postmenopausal?

Risks of Supplements

Never start taking a supplement without talking to your doctor first!

  •  Some vitamins and minerals may be harmful in large amounts.
  • Supplements are not tested by the FDA.
  • Some supplements can interact with medications. Anyone with a condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease should get a doctor’s OK before taking a supplement.

Your doctor can tell you which nutrients you may need to supplement. They can also tell you how much and the form or source you should take. Calcium, for example, comes in many forms from different sources. Depending on your needs, your doctor may recommend that you take a specific type, or that you take it combination with magnesium or vitamin D.

Stay in touch.