Ask the Expert: ABC's of Vitamins and Supplements

Ask the Expert: Supplements

Many people can rattle off the names of the most popular vitamins and the foods that contain them in abundance. But understanding exactly what vitamins are and what roles they play in the body is far more complicated. In fact, though scientists recognize that there are 13 vitamins that are essential for good health, there is no real consensus on what they actually do and exactly how much of them we truly need.

Are you considering taking vitamin or mineral supplements? Do you think you need them? Or that they "can't hurt" so you may as well take them? Barbara Sherwood, clinical nutrition manager at Alta View Hospital in Sandy, offers some insights into the ABC’s of vitamins.

First and foremost, she notes, nutritional needs should be met by eating a variety of foods as outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In some cases, vitamin/mineral supplements or fortified foods may be useful for providing nutrients that may otherwise be eaten in less than recommended amounts. If you are already eating the recommended amount of a nutrient, you may not get any further health benefit from taking a supplement. In some cases, supplements and fortified foods may actually cause you to exceed safe levels of intake of nutrients.

There are 13 essential vitamins our bodies need to function properly.

What are they?
-Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B Complex of 8 B vitamins

What do they do?
-Vitamins play a role in brain and nerve function, digestion, the immune system and reproduction

How do we get enough daily?
-The best way is through eating a well-balanced diet.
-There are some people who may need a supplementation.
-In general, if you eat a balanced diet you will not need to take additional vitamins.

Gummy vitamins are an alternative to consider if you need supplemental multivitamins. If you suffer from pill fatigue and need to supplement, gummies can be a good alternative. However, you should consider:

  1. Gummies contain about 8 grams of sugar per serving.
  2. Because the needed fillers there is potentially less of the vitamins in the gummy as the chewable or the pill version.
  3. Be cautious eating gummy vitamins like candy. Taking too many can be harmful.
  4. The supplement industry is not regulated so it’s difficult to guarantee the accuracy of how much is actually in the supplements.
  5. It is difficult to know the bioavailability with any supplement. When you take a nutrient out of food you can disrupt how it functions in concert with other nutrients in food.

Before taking any supplement consult a dietitian or your physicians:

  1. Vitamins can interfere with certain medications
  2. Mega-dosing can cause harm.
  3. There are many scenarios where supplementation can be beneficial.
    - Vitamin D for anyone who does not go out in the sun on a regular basis, breast fed babies and young children may need additional vitamin D.
    -Women with heavy periods may need additional iron.
    -Women who are at an age where they could become pregnant need to obtain adequate folic acid.
    -Anyone who issues with malabsorption or diseases of the gut.