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Supplements vs. Healthy Diets: Which Is Better for You?

Eating a variety of foods is an important way to stay healthy. Food contains nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as many different vitamins and minerals. Foods also supply fiber and other compounds that can help keep you healthy.

Dietary supplements are an easy way to add nutrients to your diet. They usually provide vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, or other nutrients. The most common are pills, powders, or beverages. Some, such as multivitamins or complete nutrition shakes, may provide a combination.

Many foods, such as breakfast cereal and orange juice, may be fortified with vitamins or minerals like calcium.

Would You Benefit from Dietary Supplements?

Experts recommend that healthy people get their vitamins and minerals by eating nutrient-dense foods rather than taking supplements. But busy caregivers may not have the time or resources to purchase and prepare healthy meals, or may be caring for someone with little or no appetite.

If you answer “yes” to these questions, you might benefit from supplements or fortified foods:

  • Do you eat fewer than 2 meals a day?
  • Is your diet restricted? (For example, do you not eat meat or dairy, or do you eat fewer than 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day?)
  • Do you eat most of your meals alone?
  • Have you gained or lost more than 10 pounds in the last six months without trying to?
  • Do you take 3 or more medications a day?
  • Do you have 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day?

Talk with Your Doctor!

Never start taking a supplement without talking to your doctor first! You may not need any, and some vitamins and minerals may be harmful in large amounts. Supplements are not tested or regulated. Some can interact with medications, and it’s especially important for anyone with a condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease to get a doctor’s OK before taking a supplement. In addition, your doctor can tell you which nutrients you may need to supplement, and can tell you the appropriate dosage and form or source you should take (calcium, for example, comes in many forms from different sources).

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