Should I Take a Supplement?

Health food stores are crammed with assorted supplements to boost your energy and strengthen your body. The array can be confounding. Here’s how to sort through the bottles and figure out what you should take.

From: 30 Minutes a Day to a Healthy Heart, Reader's Digest Canada

The Straight Answer

Conventional wisdom has long held that as long as people who are healthy eat well enough to avoid nutritional deficiencies, they do not need to supplement their diet. The only thing they have to do is consume a diet that meets the recommended dietary allowances of various nutrients.

Why You Might Consider It

But in today’s fast-paced world, some people find it difficult to meet those nutritional requirements. In a recent survey, only 36 per cent of Canadians said they ate five daily servings of fruits and vegetables—the amount recommended for obtaining the minimum level of nutrients believed necessary to prevent illness. A recent Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation report revealed that only 14 per cent of children have four or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables, although 98 per cent knew that five to ten is good for the heart.

Supplements are not a substitute for healthy living. The best way for Canadians to improve their diets is to increase fruit and vegetable intake. The best nutrition comes from the interactions of the thousands of nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. If you want to analyze your diet, ask your doctor to recommend a dietitian to consult.

 A Simple Solution: Multivitamins

Is taking a daily multivitamin a good way to ensure you get these essential nutrients?

A number of leading medical practitioners have advocated this approach; however, not everyone is convinced. Most health experts continue to emphasize the importance of a healthy diet.

How Multivitamins Work

The B vitamins may reduce homocysteine levels according to some researchers. However, the evidence for this is inconclusive. Homocysteine, an amino acid produced when your body breaks down protein, is an emerging risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Your body needs the “three Bs”—vitamins B6 and B12 and folate (or folic acid, the supplement form)—to convert homocysteine into a form that cells can use to build new proteins. Otherwise, homocysteine levels rise and so does heart risk. As we age, our bodies absorb less of the B vitamins in food, but luckily, those in supplements are well absorbed.

They also provide protective vitamin D. Among other duties, vitamin D helps the body to absorb and retain calcium, which is important for healthy blood pressure. It may also guard against the buildup of artery-hardening calcium deposits, and research from Belgium suggests that it reduces inflammation. Your body produces vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunshine, but if you don’t go out in the sun or live in a northern climate, you may not get enough sun exposure to make enough of the vitamin.

Best Kind to Buy

Not necessarily the most expensive multivitamin—plenty of brands offer the same complete range of vitamins and minerals, at the right doses, for far less money. Shop carefully.


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