Given the popularity and availability of "high potency" amino acids, antioxidants, enzymes and herbs, it might seem like dietary supplements could replace food as a source of the nutrients the body requires. However, this is not the case. Whole foods - such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables - provide a complex and unique combination of fiber, minerals and vitamins and as well as other substances that promote proper health.
Even though most mineral and vitamin supplements fall short of providing all of the nutrients and health benefits of whole foods, they can in deed complement your diet. If you are not getting enough essential nutrients in your diet, you may benefit from supplementing with minerals and vitamins. In order to do this safely and effectively, weigh your nutritional needs, evaluate the merits of taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, and learning how to correctly choose and use nutritional supplements.
Vitamin and mineral ABCs
Both minerals and vitamins are substances your body requires in small but regular amounts for proper growth, health and body function. Together, vitamins and minerals are referred to as micronutrients. The human body is not capable of producing micronutrients, so you must get them from the foods you eat or from dietary supplements.
Vitamins: Partners in regulating body functions
Vitamins are necessary for a plethora of biologic processes in the body, including them digestion, growth, alertness and the ability to fight infection. They also make it possible for your body to process and use proteins, nutrients and fats. Vitamins also act as catalysts - responsible for initiating or increasing chemical reactions. It is important to know that although vitamins are involved in converting food into energy, vitamins do not supply calories. Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins including Vitamin C, biotin and the seven other B vitamins - thiamin (B-1), riboflavin (B-2), niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6), folic acid (B-9) and cobalamin (B-12) - dissolve in water (water-soluble) and aren't stored in your body in any significant amounts. Water-soluble vitamins that are not immediate used by the body are simply excreted by the body in urine.
Fat-soluble vitamins including vitamin A, D, E or K, unlike water-soluble vitamins, when not used by the body right after ingestion are stored as body fat and in the liver. When taken in excess fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in the human body and eventually become toxic. The body is especially sensitive to excessive amounts of vitamins D and A. And since vitamins E and K affect blood clotting, it is highly recommended that you talk with a doctor before taking a vitamin or mineral supplement that contains either of these vitamins if you're taking a blood thinner, like warfarin.
Minerals: Building blocks for your body
Minerals are the primary components in your bones and teeth, and they are also the building blocks for other cells and enzymes found throughout the human body. Minerals assist in regulating the balance of fluids in the body and affect the movement of nerve impulses. There are even some minerals that help carry much needed oxygen to cells and carry away harmful carbon dioxide.
Minerals fall into two general categories:
Whole foods: Your best source of micronutrients
- Major minerals. These minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur and chloride. They are classified as major minerals because most adults require these minerals in relatively larger amounts - that is, more than 250 milligrams (mg) a day.
- Trace minerals. These minerals include chromium, copper, fluoride, iron, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. They are classified as trace minerals because the human body requires them in smaller amounts - less than 20 mg a day.
Most experts agree that whole foods are the best sources of the vitamins and minerals the body requires to stay healthy and fit. Whole foods offer three main benefits over vitamin and mineral dietary supplements:
Whole foods are complex. They contain a large variety and unique mixture of the micronutrients your body requires - not just one or two. An orange you buy at the local supermarket, for example, provides not only vitamin C but also calcium, beta carotene and other important nutrients. A vitamin C supplement alone cannot supply the body with these other micronutrients gain by eating a simple orange.
Whole foods provide dietary fiber. Fiber is very important for proper digestion and may also help to prevent a variety of common, yet deadly, diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Sufficient fiber intake also helps prevent Constipation, as most of us are already well aware.
Whole foods contain other nutrient that are believed to be important for good health. If you depend on vitamin and mineral supplements rather than eating a variety of nutritious whole foods, you miss the potential benefits that can be derived from the variety of nutrients found in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
So who needs vitamin and mineral supplements?
The fact of the mater is that a very large number of people don't get all of the nutrients their body needs from their diet because they either can't or don't eat enough, or they can't or don't eat a large variety of healthy foods. For these people, including those on restrictive diets, a good multivitamin-mineral supplement can provide vitamins and minerals that their body is not receiving from their diet. This is especially true for pregnant women and older age adults who have altered nutritional needs.