Contributed By: Amber Sullivan UGA Dietetic Student
The supplement market is vast, and many types of supplements are available. There are calcium supplements, zinc supplements, multivitamins, herbal supplements, protein shakes, you name it, and they all have the same purpose. They are there to supplement a nutrient that you’re not getting enough of in your diet. Supplements are not meal-replacements, nor will they provide all your nutrient needs. So to be effective, supplements need to be taken along with varied meals to ensure your nutrient needs are being met.
Supplements are broken down into two types: macronutrient and micronutrient. Macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Most macronutrient supplements come in shakes or powders and provide more energy than micronutrient supplements do. Some examples of macronutrient supplements include protein powders, protein shakes, and Ensure drinks. On the other hand, micronutrient supplements contain nutrients like minerals and vitamins and provide little energy. Some common examples of micronutrient supplements are multivitamins, calcium tablets, and iron pills.
Now, you may be asking yourself whether or not supplements are necessary, or just another gimmick by the diet industry to get you to spend money for the sake of your health. The answer to that question isn’t a simple yes or no, and varies from individual to individual. Someone with an underlying condition may need supplements, because they can’t get enough nutrients through their diet alone. Someone else may choose to follow a vegetarian diet that limits specific nutrients and requires supplementation. However, the majority of people don’t necessarily NEED a supplement. If you’re eating a varied diet with fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and fats, your dietary requirements are being met. Therefore, the use of any form of supplementation would be unnecessary. So, whether or not you should be taking a supplement depends on underlying health conditions and your diet. To accurately assess your need, you should talk to your doctor or dietitian, and they can help you make a decision that’s best for you.
Now that we know how to discern whether a supplement is needed, you may be wondering whether certain brands are better than others. And let me tell you, that is almost an impossible question to answer, because supplements in the United States are not regulated by any government agency like medication is. As long as the ingredients have already been proven to be safe, the supplement can contain any amount without going through an approval process. As a result, the content labels have not been verified and may contain more or less of an ingredient than what is stated on the bottle. In addition, the product can possibly consist of ingredients not on the label or not contain the ingredient listed at all. Due to the lack of verification for supplements, several private institutions verify the validity of labels on products and will place a label on products that pass inspection. The most common program that verifies ingredients for supplements is The USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program. This program rigorously tests dietary supplement products and will give their seal of approval if they pass. Because of this, most health care providers will suggest buying from supplements with a USP seal of approval, so you know that what’s on the bottle is what’s in the product.
In conclusion, supplements can benefit those who can’t meet all their nutritional needs through their diets alone. However, caution should be used when shopping for supplements. You should also consider looking for USP approval stamps on the supplements you buy. But before taking a supplement, you need to talk to your doctor or health care provider to ensure that it’s safe for you, especially if you use medication or have an underlying condition.
Stephen P. Fortmann, Brittany U. Burda, Caitlyn A. Senger, et al. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention at Cardiovascular Disease and Center: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the US Preventative Service Task Force. Ann Intern Med 2013;159:824-834. DOI:10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00729
Hans K. Biesalski, Jana Tinz. Multivitamin/mineral supplements: Rationale and safety – A systematic review. Nutrition 2017;33: 76-82. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2016.02.013.
USP. Dietary Supplements Program. Version Current: April 2022.Website: https://www.usp.org/verification-services/dietary-supplements-verification-program (accessed 1 April 2022)
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