7 Reasons You Might Actually Need a Supplement

by OneGoodFoodBlog
7 Reasons You Might Actually Need a Supplement

A supplement that promises to give you a day’s worth (or more!) of whatever vitamin or mineral you need sounds like a guarantee for better health, right? But before you stock up on zinc, vitamin D, and iron—to name a few—it’s worth looking at whether you truly need to supplement your diet.

Experts agree that it’s best to nourish your body with whole foods, and that for the most part, people can get the nutrients they need from a varied and balanced diet.

“It’s best to go with whole foods first, not only because it encourages you to have variety in your diet, but because we generally better absorb vitamins and minerals when they come from whole foods,” says Heather Caplan, RD, host of the and co-founder of the .

And those labels that boast a supplement can give you 300% of your recommended intake? Don’t fall for it, says Caplan. Our bodies aren’t designed to absorb more than we need at any given time. “Supplements can become expensive things that we excrete anyway,” she says.

That being said, there are some special cases in which you may benefit from popping a pill. Talk to your doctor if anything below sounds like you, and, if you decide to try a supplement, look for brands that have been vetted by a third party. Supplements aren’t as well regulated as prescription meds, so Caplan recommends brands that have been verified by the nonprofit United States Pharmacopeia, marked by a USP label.

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Vitamin D is one nutrient that’s . Dietary sources include fish, eggs, some mushrooms, cheese, and fortified foods like orange juice. Your body also makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.


Folic acid is the most important nutrient the little person you’re growing needs, as it helps prevent brain and spine birth defects. In fact, it’s so important that doctors and dietitians recommend taking a prenatal supplement with folic acid when you’re trying to conceive so it’s already in your system when you become pregnant.

Caplan points out that it can also be a good idea for pregnant women to take iron, because your during pregnancy.

Pregnant women may also benefit from taking a supplement, she says. Your body can’t make omega-3 fatty acids, so you have to get them from food or supplements. Increasing your fatty fish intake is one way to up your omega-3s (not to mention healthy fat and lean protein), but fish oil is often added to prenatal supplements to support a baby’s cognitive development.

If you choose to breastfeed, supplementing your diet with calcium can be a good move, Caplan says: “You’re giving what you have to someone else.”

Continuing to take supplements you used during pregnancy may still be smart, too. For example, taking an iron supplement after giving birth may help address postpartum blood loss, she says.

For people with , eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, damages the small intestine. When the small intestine is inflamed, nutrients like B vitamins may not be fully absorbed. Upon diagnosis, doctors may recommend that people suffering from celiac disease take B vitamin supplements.

Once you settle in to your gluten-free diet and inflammation of the intestine has gone down, you likely will no longer need a supplement. Caplan recommends eating a variety of foods like gluten-free oats and quinoa to maintain a healthy level of B vitamins.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can usually be controlled with diet and lifestyle changes, and it doesn’t do lasting damage. That’s not the case for inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.

Vegetarians and may be at risk for running too low on iron and .

While non-heme iron is found in plant sources, it’s the heme iron in animal products that’s best absorbed by your body. Caplan says it’s worth getting an annual blood test done to determine if your iron levels warrant a supplement if you don’t eat meat.

Vitamin B12, on the other hand, is only found in animal products and fortified foods.

“The general recommendation is for vegans and vegetarians to take a supplement for B12, but some don’t, and they may find they’re doing okay,” Caplan says.

If people following a aren’t eating much soy—tofu, soy milk, edamame—they may be at risk of not getting enough calcium, too, Caplan says.

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