The Truth About Supplements
Last week three studies came out showing that taking vitamin supplements did not lower disease risk. Does this mean we should toss our supplements? Are they not worth the money? Or, should we toss the studies and keep taking the supplements? Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of numerous books, including the Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals helped sort out the confusion.
Supplements are one factor in a healthy diet and lifestyle that has been shown absolutely to lower disease risk, help keep you slim, boost mood, extend life and the healthy years, and lower the chances of having to take medication. That’s why they are called “supplements” not substitutes. We should be making sure that we get optimal amounts of all those essential nutrients, along with eating a good diet, exercising every day, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, and embracing all the habits that lead to good health today and down the road.
You should eat at least 8, preferably 10, servings a day of colorful fruits and vegetables. You need at least 5 servings a day of 100% whole grains, three servings of calcium-rich foods like milk or plain nonfat yogurt, and two servings a day of a protein/iron/zinc-rich food such as chicken breast or black beans. In addition, at least twice a week, you need to include salmon or other fatty fish in your diet. But, guess what....almost no one is doing that. In fact, every national nutrition survey spanning decades of research has repeatedly and consistently found that many Americans do not meet the basic needs for certain vitamins and/or minerals. One study from the National Cancer Institute found that 99 out of every 100 Americans don’t meet even the minimum standards of a balanced diet. The USDA’s Healthy Eating Index, a tool to assess Americans’ eating habits, rating them on a scale of 0 to 100, consistently finds that most Americans score below or in the 60s, equivalent to an “F” or a “D” ranking on nutrition. If our children came home with grades like that, we would ground them and get a tutor!
Can you help us make sense of studies like this and the fact that we need these nutrients?
What are your guidelines for supplementing?
Vitamin D. If your multi or calcium does not have at least 1000 IU, then consider a separate supplement here, since you can’t get enough from food and optimal intake is associated with lowered risk for muscle weakness, gum disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and certain cancers, including colon, breast, pancreas, and prostate cancers. Vitamin D also reduces the incidence of falls by up to 60% in seniors.
Minerals: When it comes to calcium or magnesium, you need so much of these minerals that the multi pill would be the size of a golf ball. Typically, multis give only lip service to these nutrients. You need calcium to keep your bones, skin, nerves, and muscle in tip top shape, while magnesium is critical for coping with stress, maintaining a healthy heartbeat and blood pressure, and improving muscle, nerve, and bones. Unless you include at least three servings daily of calcium-rich milk products or fortified soymilk and lots of magnesium-rich soybeans, nuts, and wheat germ, you should supplement these two minerals.
Omega-3s: If you don’t consume at least 2 servings a week of fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, or herring, then take an omega-3 supplement. You need at least 220mg of the omega-3 DHA, and possibly up to 900mg/day to lower the risk for heart disease (the #1 killer for both men and women), depression, and possibly even lower Alzheimer’s risk by 70%.
Let me just say again, these are supplements, not substitutes. You still need to eat really well, then supplement responsibly!