Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Your Questions About Dietary Supplements, Answered!

Warning, this is a long one, but I really think it's worth reading, or maybe printing to read later. Pass this information around so people know the resources and what to look for when purchasing a safe and high quality supplement (if needed).

Question 1: If we eat a balanced diet, do we really need a supplement?

Answer 1: This depends on your definition of "balanced diet". There is a reason why the food guide pyramid and the US Dietary Recommendations exist, if you follow these recommendations you should get all of the proper nutrients you need. In reality very few people follow these guidelines. You should be getting 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables, at least 3-4 servings of whole grain (one serving equals 16 grams), 2-3 servings of dairy (includes soy drinks and yogurts) and plenty of protein (which is NOT hard to do). If you find it hard to reach this goal, I would suggest a multivitamin. Even I, one of the few Americans who follow the guidelines, used to take a half multivitamin everyday just to assure myself. I knew this wouldn't be harmful. I take a full multivitamin (generic Flintstone) one now because I am not eating fortified cereals or breads anymore, and because of my malabsorption issues. That being said, another reason you may want to take a multivitamin is if you eat all organic foods. Organic foods are not fortified or enriched, so especially young females may need a supplement for iron and folate.

Question 2: Can you get too much of some vitamins and minerals?

Answer 2: YES, and this is the reason why taking a bunch, or even just a few, supplements can be dangerous. It's almost impossible to overdose if you aren't taking a supplement, or if you are just taking one multivitamin a day. Some people take several supplements and don't realize how much of each nutrient they are consuming. This can be very dangerous. Most people who overdose are taking multivitamins that have way too much of certain nutrients. Specific vitamins to watch out for are vitamin E, niacin, and folate. Some supplement companies put way too much of these nutrients in their product, and many people take more vitamin E thinking that the more antioxidants they consume, the better. This is NOT the case. Too many antioxidants can actually have a negative effect.

Here is Nutrition Action's list of recommended multivitamins:

Best Brands for Premenopausal Women

Nature's Bounty ABC Plus
One-A-Day Maximum
Sundown Advanced Formula SunVite
Sundown Naturals Complete Daily

Best Brands for Men and Postmenopausal Women
One-A-Day Men's Health Formula
One-A-Day Men's 50+ Advantage

The above vitamins were chosen because they all contained the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals. Notice there are no specialty supplements on the lists. These are just the cheap ones you pick up at your local pharmacy. There is no need to waste your money on the really expensive brands.

If you have some multivitamins at home, make sure they contain the following:

Vitamin A: No more than 4,000 IU
Beta-Carotene: No more than 5,000 IU (there is no upper limit for beta carotene from food)
Vitamin C: 60-1,000 mg
Vitamin D: 400 IU or more
Vitamin E: 30-100 IU
Vitamin K: 20 mcg or more
Thiamin (B1): 1.2 mg or more
Riboflavin (B2): 1.7 mg or more
Niacin (B3): 16-35 mg
Vitamin B6: 2-100 mg
Folic Acid: No more than 400 mcg (** if you are taking a multivitamin avoid eating cereals or bars that provide 100% of the DV of folate!!**)
Vitamin B12: 6 mcg or more
Calcium: Don't rely on a supplement! (**Men shouldn't have more than 200 mg in their multi**)
Iron: No more than 10 mg (**Premenopausal women should have 18mg in their multi, men and postmenopausal may not need any in their supplement)
Phosphorus: No more than 350 mg
Magnesium: 100-350 mg
Zinc: 8-23 mg
Copper: .9-10 mg
Selenium: 20-105 mcg
Chromium: 35 mcg or more

NOTE: "OR MORE" does not mean there is no upper limit, only that the level in a majority of multivitamins are not high enough to cause harm

Source: Nutrition Action Healthletter

Quality symbols to look for on your supplement

Question 3: I hate veggies and don't get as many as I should, should I be taking any supplements? Multi, fish, or joint supplement??

Answer 3: Normally I would suggest trying to incorporate more vegetables and fruits, slowly, until you reach the daily recommendation (most people just want an easy fix so they can eat their McDonald's crap and then be "healthy" by taking a multivitamin) For the person who asked this question I know they just don't like veggies (and have tried)! I would say a multivitamin is probably a good idea, since it's clear you will never be reaching the 5-9 servings a day recommendation. Keep in mind, however, research shows that whole foods, rather than supplements, are better absorbed, and they provide a type of "synergy" where the compounds in the foods all work together to provide their benefits, which is much better than just taking a supplement with single nutrients all in one capsule. I don't recommend fish oil unless you don't eat any fish, then I would say it wouldn't hurt to take one. As for a joint supplement, there just isn't enough research backing up their efficacy!

Question 4:
I should REALLLLLY take Beano. mmmm is it expensive?

Answer 4: Yeah, it's sort of expensive (about $18 for 100). This may not sound like a lot of money, but the serving size is 2-3 per serving of "offending" food. If you are like me and take the pills with 1-2 foods each day, they disappear pretty fast. Coupons are often available, and trust me, these babies work!

Question 5: Do you know which vitamin is good to take for leg cramps??? My calves have been so sore and they feel like they are two seconds away from Charlie Horse.

Answer 5: Muscle cramps are caused by dehydration, muscle fatigue, and electrolyte deficits. A specific nutrient is not recommended, but be sure to drink a Gatorade or Powerade if you are working out hard, for more than an hour. You can get the calorie free one (G2) if you want. Another option would be to start eating a banana daily, and just make sure you are getting 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and drinking the correct amount of fluid (take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2). Low blood calcium could also be the cause. Make sure you consume 3 servings of dairy, or at least 1000 mg calcium per day (for those under age 50).

Question 6: Do you know anything more on the acceptance of Truvia and rejection of stevia? I use pure stevia extract, but mainly for hot beverages and yogurt only.

Answer 6: There is really not much information available that goes beyond what Wikepedia says. You will find a lot of different information from people who try to claim that Stevia has been approved, but the truth is it has not. Do I think it's dangerous? Not really. At least not any more than any other sweetener. But again, when people use too much, it can be dangerous. This is from Wikepedia:

  • In the United States, rebaudioside A is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as of December 2008.
  • Critics note that the US FDA has not actually permitted the stevia plant itself to be used as a food additive, but only the rebaudioside A extract <----- Used in Truvia
  • In May 2008, Coke and Cargill announced the availability of Truvia, a consumer brand stevia sweetener containing erythritol and Rebiana, which the FDA permitted as a food additive in December 2008
Studies have not shown Stevia to be 100% safe. Diabetics could have major side effects from Stevia (specifically high doses) due to it's effect on blood sugar (could dangerously decrease blood sugar).

Question 7: I should probably take some Vitamin D. I work all day in a dark room (no lights or windows!) So maybe this would be something I should look into?

Answer 7:
All you need is 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight, twice a week, between 10 am and 3 pm, in order to get enough vitamin D. Working in a dark room really doesn't mean you can't get out for 15 minutes and get some sun. If you don't get even 15 minutes of sun, twice a week, I would probably recommend a supplement (especially during the winter when it's much more difficult to get sun!). Keep in mind, however, vitamin D is also found in some yogurts, milks, and bony fish.

Coming Up

Tonight I am home alone, without the Biggest Loser! As sad as that is, I have really been enjoying the Olympics so I think I'll survive. Tomorrow's post will include a new recipe and my thoughts on the "Raw Food Diet".

Thanks for reading, and have a great night/day!


  1. Thanks for answering my questions! :D
    looking forward to hear your thoughts about raw food diet.
    have a good evening! :)

  2. Thanks for all the info! And I can't wait to see what you have to say on raw food. All I know is raw foodies make really tasty brownies.

  3. This is a really great post, Gina.. thank you!!

    When I first starting taking zinc i was doing 30mg.. omg, my stomach was a mess.. now I take 8 mg.. wow, wish I woulda had you around then!

  4. Aww yay you answered my question! Thanks love! thank God that I eat bananas all the time =)

    This is an amazing post, filled with great information!

  5. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. Great info.!

  6. Such a great, comprehensive post! Thanks, Gina!

  7. Great post Gina. I am going to take a look at my multi vitamin and see if it has the quantities you listed here.

  8. I used to take a multivitamin with everything in it, but I could never find with without so much vitamin A. I eat tons of leafy greens and other vitamin A rich veggies, like butternut squash, so I really don't think I need the extra vitamin A. Now I just take a bunch of random vitamins, like calcium and vitamin D since I don't eat a lot of dairy...I'm getting bored/tired of swallowing pills everyday though. Is that strange?

  9. thanks for this post..it reminded me that i rEALLY need to get on buying a good multivitamin asap!!!


  10. What is GNC solo day? You said the list didn't have supplements from GNC- but it did ? I'm confused! I used to work at GNC and I don't remember the solo day..

    I love your statement which is so true- so many people think "i should take a multivitamin so I don't have to eat fruits and veggies" or so that they can counteract their mcdonalds' lifestyle... great tips!

  11. Hi Gina!

    Hey where did you find your information on 5000 IU on beta-carotene? I was looking the other day for the upper limit and couldn't find this. Good timing. =)

    Also, isn't it true that people with darker skin need to be in the sun longer to make a sufficient amount of vit D? Great post!

  12. Interesting post! I wonder about the Vit E recs though. I know that the official RDA is low (I thought I remembered 40 IU officially), but I've heard several sources (including Irish's doc) now recommending 400 IU/day for the heart benefits. My understanding is that it's fat soluble, so you can get too much. Do you know the details behind that? Thanks again hon, it was definitely interesting!

  13. Very informative. Thanks!

    Looking forward to your thoughts on raw food diets!

  14. Great post- thank you! I take a kids multivitamin, fish oil supplement and a calcium/D3 supplement (as well as lots of dairy!)

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the raw food diet!

  15. Thanks for all the good information!

    I take a multi, a probiotic (Align), and fish oil.

  16. I can't tell you how many times I've referred people you your article on Vitamin D. I swear we've had the longest winter ever!

  17. wow, you are always so helpful! thanks for passing on the great info to all your readers!

  18. If I could add something to the discussion (I did a post on this topic a while back): Supplements are not FDA regulated and often don't contain the full amounts listed on the container. An independent study was conducted and found that there were only a handful of multivitamins that actually contained the full amount of the listed vitamins and minerals. Most of these were available only through medical professionals or fitness professionals and were expensive ($50-$70 for a month's supply.)

    Be careful about supplements and do a little research before choosing.

  19. Thank you for all of the great info.....Very informative post!

  20. Wow, what a great post! I take a chewable Flintstone vitamin as an insurance policy.

  21. Thanks for all the information! I try to take a multi, calcium+vitamin D, and fish oil each day.

  22. "This depends on your definition of "balanced diet"." Hear hear! I take calcium/magnesium and probiotics because I don't eat much dairy, so I KNOW that I would otherwise be lacking in those nutrients.

    Also THANK YOU for addressing the fact that we need to be careful not to "overdose" on vitamins... I see people popping the multivitamins and I just shudder because of the bad things that too much can do to your body. We just need BALANCE!

    I'm wary of any kind of sweetener... my way of dealing with it is to just stay away from them altogether. If I need something sweet, I prefer using something like honey or maple syrup because those are sugars that I KNOW are natural. Plus they taste good ;)

    Looking forward to reading about raw food (and yes, you can absolutely link to my blog for it :)).

  23. Thank you so much for this post Gina this is one of the few aspects of being healthy I have never been able to figure out! I am going to be looking back at this post when I get home. I don't take a multi vitamin now and I prob should be since I do not get the recommended veggies or dairy.

  24. My multi is there (CVS)! I'm good to go :)

  25. Fyi, about Truvia...it (and PureVia) contains a tiny amount of Rebiana, which is not the same as Rebaudioside A (Reb A). Reb A is one of the 11 natural glycoside compounds in the stevia leaf produced by the action of sunlight on the leaves. Rebiana is peoduced by the action of chemicals and stringent alcohols on various stevia glycosides. They were also actually not the first "stevia products" to be GRAS.

  26. good round up post on the vitamins!!!!! loved it..
    i remember asking you about the vitamin D a longgg time ago.. i started taking it because i did hear that taking it might help with depression, like a st. johns wart of sorts.. lol; i dont have insurance right now and no access to therapy, so any small thing i can do to help myself, i will do it! plus the sun makes me happy, so i was thinking maybe in yummy chewable vitamin forumla, i would get happier! dumb logic, but hey.. whatever works!!!
    so far i havent felt a big difference, so i guess i will finish up the bottle, and wait for spring time to hit : )
    oh and BTW, im having a giveaway on my blog, gooooooooo have a peek!

  27. LOVE THIS!! thank you so much for putting all of this together on one neat post! you are the best! i had NO idea that beano was so expensive! woowza.

    my mom just bought me bottle of vit. D tabs because I know I dont get enough and it is SUPER important esp in teh witner time in new england! I have been having 1 a day!

  28. I knew about USP but not about NSF -- so glad you posted this! Great info, Gina! I'm sure this took a lot of time to put together, but it is such important information! I'm going to print it, too!

  29. Ick! blogger ate my comment I think!

    Anyways I'll try again=)

    I just wanted to say thank you so much for an awesome post! This was so informational and answered a lot of questions that I had!

    I love that you gave a really good breakdown of why you should be taking a multi. I try to get all my vitamins from food as much as possible so it was really cool to know that I wasn't going down the wrong path on this. Also I really appreciate all the supplement suggestions! Its good to know which vitamins you can overdo it on. This was something else I was always interested in finding out more on.

    Great info about muscle cramps. I noted before how this used to be a huge problem for me. I thought it was my shoes that helped but maybe it was my diet change! Ive been really listening to my body and eating more to compensate for my workouts and since I haven't had any huge charlie horses' anymore. So good to know!

    Stevia was a great question too. I eat a lot of stevia. Personally I feel its the safest sugar substitute on the market. But its just a personal opinion. I liked reading all the info on it.

    Thanks for answering my Vit. D q! I do try and take as many walks as possible during the day. Id go crazy otherwise. So Im glad that its giving me the Vitamin D that i need!

    Thanks so much for putting this awesome post of info together! Very informative! Have a great day!!

    (P.S. I just posted that you won my giveaway!)

  30. I have printed out your post and am bringing it with me to the drugstore to get some multivitamins!

    it's great to know that you dont have to spend double the money for a name brand over a generic when they do the same thing.

    thank you for such an informative post! :)

  31. Great post! I take a couple of supplements and I'm definitely going to check them out having read this.

  32. Wow what a great post, lots of AMAZING information!! Thanks Gina!!

    I take GNC womens Active Multivitamins, they seem to be really great and work for me!!!

    yay for a new recipe!!!!


  33. Thank you! So informational! :)

  34. Ahhh I can’t believe your Nick isn’t a fan of coffee!!! Hahah That’s pretty funny. Not even coffee ice-cream huh?? This man is serious!
    This information on supplements and vitamins is really helpful to know. I take Women’s 1 a day supplements and paid almost double the price over the generic Costco brand. Now I’m wondering if the brand is worth it. Sometimes I feel like the placebo effect is pretty powerful too though. I’ll see a name brand and automatically think it’s a higher quality product. Is this an unfair assumption?

  35. Hi Everybody,

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  36. A significant number of studies have shown that berry phytonutrients (such as anthocyanins) support cardiovascular health, and are beneficial in reducing age-associated oxidative stress, improving neuronal and cognitive brain function as well as ocular health, and protecting genomic integrity. In addition, berry phytonutrients have been shown to enhance the immune system and help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

  37. nice post. thanks.

  38. It still depends on the user. If you take dietary supplements and you feel that they don't have an effect, then you should check other factors like what you eat or if you exercise.

  39. FDA had warned all dietary supplement manufacturers that their product labels should be truthful and not misleading.