Walk into any drugstore or pharmacy and you’re bound to be overwhelmed with all the vitamin and mineral supplements lining the shelves. You’re faced with a dizzying array of bottles containing everything from vitamin A to zinc. All-in-one multivitamins compete for shelf space with individual supplements like vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, folic acid and more. Men’s formulas, women’s formulas, age-specific formulas, prenatal… the list goes on. Confused?
At the most basic level, vitamins and minerals are complex chemical compounds that are vital to a healthy body. While vitamins and minerals don’t actually give the body energy, they do allow the body to transform what we eat into energy. We need to consume 13 major vitamins and more than 14 minerals every day to maintain our metabolic processes. How can you keep it all straight? Here are some tips to help cut through the confusion:
“People can really make it simple for themselves by following Canada’s Food Guide,” says Areli Hermanson, RD, a community nutritionist in Victoria, B.C. She says that by choosing five to 12 servings of grain products, five to 10 servings of fruits and veggies, up to four servings of dairy and two servings of lean meat or an alternative, you’ve already done all the work in getting your daily vitamin and mineral requirements.
The fact is, a vitamin supplement is not going to replace a good diet. Most of the food we eat today, like bread, cereals and milk are fortified with extra vitamins, so most people with healthy diets don’t need to take a vitamin supplement.
For people who have a healthy diet but still want the extra assurance that comes with taking a supplement, most nutritionists recommend taking a standard one-a-day multivitamin plus minerals. Beware, however, that certain factors may make it necessary for a person to take a single dose of a particular vitamin or mineral. Those factors include:
But just because you identify with one of the groups above doesn’t mean you should dive into the shelves at the drug store and grab all the supplements you can find. Taking high amounts of certain nutrients can cause interactions and can even be toxic. Be sure to get advice from your doctor, nutritionist, pharmacist or other health professional before taking any supplements.
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.