Vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients, are vital to good health. But how much do you really need? And is it best to get them from food or supplements? To help you decide, heres a rundown of some essential nutrients.
C and E. In recent years there
has been a hullabaloo over antioxidants, including vitamins C and E. These vitamins, along
with other antioxidant nutrients such as beta-carotene, have been associated with
protection against some chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer and cataracts.
As yet, however, there is no scientific proof that antioxidants prevent these diseases.
Folate. Adequate intake of folate, a B vitamin, is important in preventing neural tube birth defects. It may also offer protection against heart disease by lowering blood levels of a substance called homocysteine. The recommended daily intake is 400 micrograms. Folate is found in fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens), legumes and orange juice. Grain-based foods, such as wheat flour, breads and cereals are fortified with folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate. Public-health experts recommend all women capable of becoming pregnant take a supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid. For others, eat a variety of foods rich in folate and fortified with folic acid, and supplement if your diet is falling short.
Calcium. The mineral calcium is vital to bone health and can help protect against osteoporosis and fractures. The recommended daily intake for adults is 1,000 milligrams for people aged 19 to 50 and 1,200 milligrams for people older than 50. The best food sources are low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, and calcium-fortified orange juice. Eat at least three servings a day of these foods to reach the recommended dose, otherwise take a supplement to make up for what you're missing.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also crucial for bone health since it helps the body absorb calcium. The recommended daily intake is 200 IU for people younger than 50; 400 IU for people ages 51 to 70; and 600 IU for people older than 70. Few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D and the ones that do, such as liver, butter, cream and egg yolks, are generally not eaten in large amounts. A good source is milk, since it's fortified with 100 IU of vitamin D per cup. Fortified breakfast cereals and fatty fish are also good choices. Your body can synthesize vitamin D from sunlight but not if you use sunblock and not in the winter in northern climates. So, unless you eat enough vitamin D-rich foods (and many people don't ), take a supplement to reach the recommended level for your age.
Multivitamin/mineral supplements. As long as you realize a "multi" isn't a magic bullet for health and won't correct for a poor diet, it's fine to take one and it can help make up for days when your diet isn't exactly perfect. Skip the high potency versions and stick with a basic multi that offers no more than 100 percent of the daily value for each nutrient.
Important caveats to remember when considering supplements: