Do you need vitamin or mineral supplements?

Consistently eating a well-balanced diet – with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meats – can ensure you’re meeting all of your nutritional needs. But many Americans fall short of consuming enough of the foods they need to maintain healthy levels of some important vitamins and minerals.

What supplements should I consider?

The Food and Drug Administration does not hold dietary supplements to the same strict standards as prescription and over-the-counter medications, so talk to your primary care doctor before taking vitamin or mineral supplements. He or she can recommend the right supplements at the proper dosages.

Supplement needs and dosing typically vary by dietary choices, age and sex. Women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or breastfeeding may also have different nutritional needs. Some common nutrients to discuss with your physician include:

  • Folic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin B9, which helps support brain and spinal cord health in babies developing in the womb. Foods naturally rich in vitamin B9 include spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Women who are pregnant or who are trying to become pregnant should talk to their doctor about taking folic acid supplements and eating foods such as breakfast cereal that are fortified with the nutrient.
  • Vitamin B12 keeps the body’s blood and nerve cells healthy. It’s found in animal products such as beef, chicken and fish. Individuals who may need to take a B12 supplement or eat B12-fortified foods include:
    • People older than 50, who typically have trouble absorbing this nutrient from natural sources
    • Vegetarians and vegans, because natural sources of B12 are mostly limited to animal products
  • Vitamin D helps maintain your bone and muscle health. This nutrient is made by your skin when exposed to sunlight. While salmon and tuna are good sources of vitamin D, most foods do not contain high levels of this nutrient. Groups who may benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement or eating vitamin D-fortified foods include:
    • Older adults, because their skin may not make enough vitamin D
    • People who live in areas with limited sunlight
    • Individuals with darker skin, which is less efficient at making the nutrient
  • Calcium helps maintain strong teeth and bones. The mineral is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Cabbage and broccoli are good non-dairy sources of calcium. Several groups of people may not be getting enough calcium, including:
    • Postmenopausal women, who may have bone loss that makes absorbing calcium more difficult
    • Individuals with lactose intolerance or milk allergy who don’t consume enough dairy products
    • Vegans, or anyone else who doesn’t eat dairy products
  • Iron helps form hemoglobin, a substance in the blood that carries oxygen to your body’s tissues and organs. Heme iron is found in meat and seafood and is more readily absorbed than non-heme iron, which is found in plants such as lentils, quinoa and collard greens. People who may not get enough iron through natural sources include:
    • Women who are pregnant
    • Women with heavy menstrual periods
    • Vegans and vegetarians, because they don’t eat meat

If you’re concerned about your nutrient intake or want to learn more, schedule an appointment with a doctor at one of UCLA Health’s primary care practices.


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