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Health & Food

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 a “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 every day 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 bread 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 Sunlite
  • 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 to 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 FDA has not actually permitted the stevia plant itself to be used as a food additive, but only the rebaudioside A extract
  • 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 its the 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, milk, 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!

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