Do you need a vitamin supplement?

Everyone knows that proper nutrition is necessary for good health, but just what exactly does that mean? What is good nutrition? And how do you know if you are getting all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy?

A good place to start is with Canada's Food Guide. Health and nutrition experts developed the guide to help Canadians choose the right foods in the right amounts to maintain their health.

Whole foods (non-processed foods) are the best source of vitamins and minerals. They also provide fibre – which can help prevent certain diseases, such as diabetes and heart problems – and other important substances such as phytochemicals that may help protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Unfortunately not everyone eats three healthy, well-balanced meals each day along with at least 30 minutes of exercise (at least 4 days per week.). Other people are on restricted diets or have health conditions that prevent them from getting the nutrients they need from the foods they eat.

People who don't get all the nutrients they need from their diets may benefit from supplements. For example, those who don't eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables may find it difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals they need. Vegetarians and people on low calorie diets may not be eating a wide enough variety of foods to provide a full range of nutrients. People with food allergies or intolerances may also suffer from the limitations of a restricted diet. Some medical conditions affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food. People with diseases of the liver, gallbladder, pancreas or intestines and those who have had surgery on their digestive tract may eat a well-balanced diet, but their bodies may not be able to extract the nutrients from the food they eat.

Sometimes lifestyle choices rob our bodies of nutrients. Tobacco use decreases the absorption of many vitamins and minerals, and heavy alcohol consumption can lead to digestive problems that do the same.

Certain stages of life make women particularly vulnerable to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding may require extra iron. Women who are pregnant and those who may become pregnant should talk to their doctors about special supplements that contain folic acid to help prevent birth defects and provide the extra nutrition they need. Women who have reached menopause need extra calcium to keep their bones strong and the body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium.

If you think you may not be getting all the nutrients your body needs, ask you doctor or a Smith Drugs & Apothecary pharmacist whether a vitamin/mineral supplement would be right for you.

In general if you decide a vitamin or mineral supplement would be right for you, there are some basic things to keep in mind:

  • Read the label carefully

  • Look for balance

  • Avoid megadoses

  • Check the expiry date

  • Store supplements properly

Norm Corriveau, B.Sc.Phm.