A common topic of conversation with patients revolves around vitamin and mineral supplements. Typically, I am working with patients for diabetes management or weight loss. There are many supplement companies targeting their products to these groups. What people struggle with the most is sifting through all the fancy marketing. Thankfully, a registered dietitian is a great resource to help you figure out the risk and benefit of supplement options.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics supports the use of micronutrient supplements for people with increased requirements that are not being met through diet alone. Older adults, pregnant or breast-feeding women, or people taking medication that alter nutrient absorption, metabolism or excretion may benefit from the use of micronutrient supplements. Other examples would be individuals with diagnosed/lab confirmed nutrient deficiencies, or those who avoid whole food groups because of food allergies or dietary preferences.
One common deficiency in our area is Vitamin D. We can obtain this nutrient best through skin exposure and also food sources such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, fortified foods like milk, juice, yogurt and cereal, or by using oral supplements. Signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency aren’t always obvious, but you may experience mood changes, bone loss, muscle cramps or weakness, bone and joint pain, or fatigue. If you have concerns about your risk of specific deficiencies, it is best to talk with your medical provider.
My main concern is that patients are falling for marketing claims and don’t understand the risks and benefits of the supplements they purchase. If someone is choosing to take a supplement, we want to make sure it does not interact with any medications they are currently taking. Compared to prescribed medications, the Food and Drug Administration does not apply the same effectiveness and safety studies to vitamin and herbal supplements and their manufacturers. This means they are not individually required to subject their products to large-scale studies before selling them to the public. The FDA may take action after a product comes to market if specific safety concerns are raised or they are found to have made deceptive or false claims about the product.
If it is appropriate to take a supplement, there are ways to identify quality products. Companies may choose to have their products independently quality tested to provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants. Organizations that offer this quality testing include: U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. Products verified through these organizations will have trademark seals on the label to identify the verification approval.
Since there are no magic pills, it remains best practice to eat a variety of foods for optimal health. Build a balanced plate by dividing a 9-inch plate into fourths; fill one quarter with whole grains or starchy vegetables, one quarter with protein-rich foods and the remaining half with colorful fruits and vegetables. Vary your choices of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and fats. Choose as many different-colored fruits and vegetables over the course of each week. Stay hydrated with water and other calorie-free beverages. Get support from family and friends who will all benefit from these healthy habits.
If you are concerned about your nutritional health, seek advice from a credentialed provider, such as a registered dietitian. Thankfully, science continues to evolve over time, and dietitians work hard to stay up-to-date about proven recommendations. They can help guide you toward healthful choices to help you attain your goals. In the case of a diagnosed nutrient deficiency, seek quality-tested products for treatment. Keep reaching for those fruits and veggies.
Amanda Rau is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke's.