Making the decision to lead a healthier lifestyle is fairly easy, but putting it into practice on a daily basis is more difficult. Busy lifestyles often interfere with efforts to eat a more balanced, healthier diet. Have you ever tried to eat 5-6 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day? It’s no secret that most Americans don’t follow the dietary guidelines and/or meet all their nutrient needs through diet alone.1 Fortunately, supplements are there to help fill in the nutritional gaps.
What Vitamins Should You Take? Supplement "Must-Haves"
A dietary supplement is defined as something added to make up for a nutrient lacking or missing in one’s diet to help complete nutrient needs and help support overall health.† This is exactly what a multivitamin/mineral can do and why it is important to include a multi as the foundation to a supplement regimen. Multivitamins/minerals help complete a poor diet, fill nutrient gaps and ensure an adequate intake of essential nutrients. The remaining “must haves” of most supplement regimens include Calcium and Vitamin D for bone health.† Bone is constantly breaking down and rebuilding itself throughout life. Adequate Calcium and Vitamin D as part of a healthful diet — along with physical activity — may reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life.
Learn More: A Guide To Multivitamin Benefits
Getting Started: Building Your Supplement Foundation
Step 1: Choose a multivitamin that is appropriate for your age and gender. A multivitamin should meet your basic needs, including being formulated to reflect the specific needs of your age and gender. For example, iron needs for women over the age of 50 years are 8 mg/day while the needs for women ages 19 - 50 are 18 mg/day and you have different iron needs if you are pregnant or nursing. Multivitamins for women over the age of 50 may contain little to no iron since 8 mg/day can typically be obtained through diet. Choosing a multivitamin/mineral that is both age and gender appropriate provides a solid foundation for any supplement regimen.
Step 2: Although your chosen multivitamin likely contains some calcium, it won’t meet 100% of your needs as the tablet or softgel would be too large to swallow. If you are not consuming 2-3 servings of dairy per day, choose a Calcium supplement that contains Vitamin D to support bone health.† Wondering what form of Calcium to take: citrate or carbonate? Calcium carbonate should be taken with meals for best absorption. If you are not able to tolerate Calcium carbonate even with meals, then opt for Calcium citrate, which can be taken on an empty stomach and is not associated with the GI disturbances that are sometimes linked to Calcium carbonate.
Strengthening Your Supplement Foundation
Now it’s time to build on your supplement foundation in order to complete and strengthen your daily regimen. To do so, take a closer look at your diet, lifestyle, and health concerns.
How Diet Impacts The Vitamins & Supplements You Need
Chronically cutting food groups from a daily diet can eventually impact nutritional status. Low-carb diets tend to limit intake of fruits, whole grains, beans, and dairy products. While your supplement foundation covers calcium and vitamin D (if limiting dairy), you may need additional B vitamins (while limiting whole grains) to help insure proper metabolism of carbohydrates, fat, and protein.† If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, then animal products are off limits. Since animal products are a good food source of Vitamin B12, a Vitamin B12 supplement (or B complex containing B12) is often recommended for vegans and vegetarians in addition to a multivitamin and calcium with vitamin D. Keep a food diary for 1 week to identify your main nutritional gaps, for example, are you leaving out any major food groups such as bread/cereal or fruit/vegetables? Then choose additional supplements to be included in your daily regimen to close the gaps and ensure adequate levels of all nutrients are maintained in the body. Talk to a registered dietitian if practicing a special diet to help identify any specific nutritional gaps.
How Stress Impacts Your Health
Stress can affect various aspects of nutrition including what we eat, but alone, it is also implicated in various health concerns including high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress may also negatively impact immune health and sleep patterns. Using supplements to help your body cope is one way to approach and help manage stress. For example, Ashwagandha is an herb that is clinically proven to help reduce stress,† the mineral Magnesium can help support muscle relaxation,† and 200 mg of the herb L-theanine is clinically shown to help relax the mind.† While supplements may help the body cope with stress and its effects, it is also important to incorporate other ways of alleviating the negative effects of stress, such as exercise, yoga, deep breathing, and choosing healthier foods. Sleep is also very important. If you are having difficulty sleeping, consider adding Melatonin to your supplement regimen. Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the brain, which helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle.†
Also consider, if you are a smoker, take steps to try and quit. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health and your heart. Avoid environmental pollution when possible for a healthier lifestyle.
How Health Concerns Impact Overall Well-Being
Our personal health concerns or conditions can spark an interest in supplements that may give us that extra edge in supporting overall health. Some examples include adding plant stanols/sterols to a basic supplement regimen to help lower cholesterol; adding fish oil to help support a healthy heart,† especially if you don't eat at least 2 servings of fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines, halibut, anchovies) per week; adding Glucosamine and Chondroitin to your supplement regimen to help support joint comfort, mobility and flexibility, and Calcium and Vitamin D for strong and healthy bones.† Remember, when choosing supplements for a specific health concern, turn to a healthcare professional knowledgeable in supplement use so that he/she can help you make choices that best suit your needs. For a personalized approach, take the Nature Made quiz to find the supplement regimen designed just for you.
Step 1: The foundation of any supplement regimen should include an age and gender appropriate multivitamin/mineral and calcium with Vitamin D.
Step 2: Individualize Your Needs by closely evaluating dietary habits, lifestyle, and health concerns. Make the appropriate changes for a healthier lifestyle and determine which additional supplements you should take to support your overall health and wellbeing.
It is important to re-evaluate your needs on a regular basis and make any necessary changes or updates to your supplement regimen to reflect changes in your diet, lifestyle, or health status. In addition, speak to your healthcare practitioner before adding new supplements to your routine if you have any medical conditions or are taking prescription medications.
This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
1. Blumberg, J. B., et al. "Impact of Frequency of Multi-Vitamin/Multi-Mineral Supplement Intake on Nutritional Adequacy and Nutrient Deficiencies in U.S. Adults." Nutrients 9.8 (2017).