Vitamins can be found at your local grocery store, pharmacy or health food store. Aisle after aisle displays everything from Vitamin A to Zinc, but what do we really need? From reports of supplements that “cure cancer” or “prevent weight gain” to supplements that claim to promote general health and well being, it can be very confusing for one to pick and choose wisely.
In general, the human body needs certain vitamins and minerals to function at its best. Even though the list is long, there are only few vitamins and minerals that some people need to use to supplement their diet. In fact, most of your vital vitamins and minerals that you really need are supplied through the foods you eat.
These are the vitamins that are most commonly supplemented:
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin for energy and nervous system function. This vitamin is commonly found in dairy products, eggs, meats, and fortified cereals. If you do not consume enough vitamin B12 in your diet, it may be necessary to use a supplement.
Calcium: Calcium has a variety of functions in our body, from bone and teeth formation to constriction and relaxation of blood vessels and muscles. The most common source of calcium are dairy products and fortified beverages and cereals. Green vegetables such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are also very high in calcium. The recommended amount of calcium depends on your age. 25-50 years old individuals need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams, 65 or older need 1,500 milligrams, or if you are pregnant or lactating, you need 1,500 milligrams.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a vitamin that is commonly supplemented as it has many functions in the body such as facilitating bone growth and calcium balance. Vitamin D can be found in foods such as eggs, fish, and fortified cereals, dairy products, and juices. Vitamin D is one of the vitamins that our bodies can actually produce when our skin is exposed to sunlight. One concern about vitamin D is the potential for toxicity. If you have a prescription for Vitamin D, be sure to ask your doctor before you start another supplement that also contains Vitamin D.
Folate/ folic acid: Folate is very important in red blood cell formation and in the prevention of birth defects. Most people get enough folate through food sources, such as beans, enriched grains, avocados and green leafy vegetables. It is important that women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant to always supplement their diet with folic acid.
Iron: Iron is another common supplement used mostly in children and women. It is important for growth and development as well as red blood cell function. Iron is commonly found in meat, beans, dark green vegetables and whole grains. Iron supplements can be upsetting to the stomach. If this is the case for you, you may try to take smaller doses, take it with food or try a delayed release or enteric coated tablet. For the best absorption, try taking this vitamin with orange juice, water with a vitamin C supplement or with foods high in vitamin C. Also, avoid taking this with antacids, calcium or dairy products because they can interfere with iron absorption.
While there are a lot of other vital vitamins and minerals, most of them can be found in your daily multi-vitamin and/or the foods you eat. If you want to learn more, please refer to this FDA vitamin and mineral chart. You will find the function of each vitamin or mineral, what food sources contain each one and the daily recommended dose. If you think you are in need of certain vitamins or minerals, please ask your healthcare provider.
Just as a reminder, any time you start something new you should consult your pharmacist or healthcare provider. Just because you do not need a prescription for supplements, does not mean every option is safe in all situations and doses.