Kris Clark, PhD, RD, sports nutrition director at Penn State University, says she very carefully uses select sports supplements with collegiate athletes: "I rely on the major nutrients in food, timing of meals and fluids to enhance athletic performance, and in general I discourage dietary supplements, other than the use of sport shakes, bars, and gels after practice or events for muscle cell recovery."

Vitamins and minerals are most easily digested with food. Fat-soluble vitamins should be taken with food that contains fat. Vitamins tend to work synergistically, meaning that they work together in order to be effective. For instance, vitamin E requires some of the B-complex vitamins and the minerals selenium and zinc for most effective absorption. Some minerals may not be absorbed or may inhibit each other when taken in improper ratios. Generally, a high quality, broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement will be formulated to prevent unfavorable interactions.
After basic nutritional requirements are supported, supplements may be used to target specific needs and health conditions. For instance, athletes, men, women, children, the elderly, and vegetarians have differing needs for nutrients, and an informed use of supplements would take these differences into account. People suffering from health conditions and diseases may use specific supplements to target their condition and to support the body's healing capacity by providing optimal amounts of nutrients.
The VITAL trial showed that neither vitamin D nor fish oil supplementation significantly reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Conversely, current evidence supports the benefits of multiple dietary patterns, especially the Mediterranean diet, in primary prevention of CVD. Health effects of low-carbohydrate diets depend on the food sources of macronutrients.

Don’t fear the fats! Healthy fats provide the structural component to many cell membranes which are essential for cellular development and carrying various messages (hormones) through our body quickly. Protein is also responsible for hormone production, so it’s important for women to get foods that will provide you with healthy fats and protein. Women’s cycles can also deplete your body of B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium so you should be aware of your whole food intake and possibly choose to supplement (see above for more if it’s right for you).


Health care experts haven't reached a consensus on the issue of vitamin and mineral supplements. Many say that if you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, you don't need any. But not all of us eat a well-balanced diet. And sometimes, you may follow a nutritious diet and still be deficient. Many women fail to get the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Stress increases your need for vitamins and minerals, especially C, B-complex and zinc.
FDA regulations for nutritional supplements differ in important ways from those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. For one thing, pharmaceutical companies have to gather data showing that a new drug is safe and effective in order to get the FDA's approval to market the drug. Makers of dietary supplements don't have to show that sort of proof. Be sure to let your doctor know about any nutritional supplement you plan on taking so you can discuss whether it's right for you and the appropriate dose.
Cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in foods made from animals, such as bacon, whole milk, cheese made from whole milk, ice cream, full-fat frozen yogurt, and eggs. Fruits and vegetables do not contain cholesterol. Eggs are a major source of dietary cholesterol for Americans, but studies show that eating one egg a day does not increase the risk for heart disease in healthy people.2 You should eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. Check the Nutrition Facts label for cholesterol. Foods with 20% or more of the “Daily Value” of cholesterol are high in cholesterol.
After basic nutritional requirements are supported, supplements may be used to target specific needs and health conditions. For instance, athletes, men, women, children, the elderly, and vegetarians have differing needs for nutrients, and an informed use of supplements would take these differences into account. People suffering from health conditions and diseases may use specific supplements to target their condition and to support the body's healing capacity by providing optimal amounts of nutrients.
Considering average dietary needs and the prevalence of certain health conditions, some basic guidelines may provide the foundation for the effective use of nutritional supplements. First, a high quality, broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement, taken once per day, is recommended to provide a range of nutrients. This should contain the B-complex vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, which may help prevent heart disease, and the minerals zinc and copper, which aid immunity. In addition to a multivitamin, antioxidants can be added to a supplementation routine. These include vitamin A (or beta-carotene), vitamin C, and vitamin E, and the mineral selenium. Antioxidants may have several positive effects on the body, such as slowing the aging process, reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease, and reducing the risks of illness and infection by supporting the immune system. Coenzyme Q10 is another antioxidant in wide usage, as studies have shown it may improve the health of the heart and reduce the effects of heart disease. Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3, are also recommended as they are involved in many important processes in the body, including brain function. Calcium supplementation is recommended for the elderly and for women, to strengthen bones and prevent bone loss. Calcium supplements that are balanced with magnesium have a less constipating effect and are better absorbed.
Meal supplements are used to replace or fortify meals. They may be designed for people with special needs, or for people with illnesses that may affect digestion capabilities and nutritional requirements. Meal supplements may contain specific blends of macronutrients, or proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber. Some meal supplements consist of raw, unprocessed foods, or vegetarian or vegan options, or high protein and low fat composition. Meal supplements are available to support some popular diet programs. Meal supplements are often fortified with vitamins, minerals, herbs, and nutrient-dense foods.

Most vegetarians eat milk products and eggs, and as a group, these lacto-ovo-vegetarians enjoy good health. A healthful vegetarian diet falls within the food pyramid guidelines offered by the USDA. However, meat, fish and poultry are major sources of iron, zinc and B vitamins, so pay special attention to these nutrients. Vegans (those who eat only plant-based food) should consult a health care professional about adding vitamin and mineral supplements; make sure you consume sufficient quantities of protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium.


Now, the benefits of good nutrition are fairly obvious to most of us. You have more energy, your health improves, and your productivity blossoms. Healthy eating also plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy weight, which means a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart problems, high blood pressure, and a host of other health ailments. (Genetics also plays a significant role. I'm not some crazy person who thinks genes don't matter.)
What you eat and drink is influenced by where you live, the types of foods available in your community and in your budget, your culture and background, and your personal preferences. Often, healthy eating is affected by things that are not directly under your control, like how close the grocery store is to your house or job. Focusing on the choices you can control will help you make small changes in your daily life to eat healthier.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. People engaging in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium. Sports drinks contain blends of electrolytes (salts) that the body loses during exertion and sweating, as well as vitamins, minerals, and performance-supporting herbs.
Before and during pregnancy. You need more of certain nutrients than usual to support your health and your baby’s development. These nutrients include protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. Many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins or a folic acid supplement during this time. Many health insurance plans also cover folic acid supplements prescribed by your doctor during pregnancy. You also need to avoid some foods, such as certain kinds of fish. Learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy in our Pregnancy section.
Vitamin A can become toxic when taken in large amounts (over 100,000 International Units) on a daily basis over time, as can vitamin D. Substituting beta-carotene for vitamin A can alleviate this risk. Very large doses of minerals taken over long periods may have toxic effects in the body. Dosages far exceeding RDA's of vitamins are not recommended, nor are large doses of other supplements.
Nutritional supplements are items that are usually considered non-food items that are used to enhance your nutritional program. Supplements may include, but are not limited to, vitamins, minerals, bars, and energy drinks or sports nutrition products to enhance performance. Supplements should be used alongside a healthy diet, but not replace it. To find a dietitian in your area that can assist you with supplements, go to www.eatright.org.

Your doctor may also be able to notify you of any other potential risks a supplement might pose to your health (especially if you're pregnant, have other medical conditions or are planning to have surgery), as well as offer guidance on the best dosage to take. If your doctor isn't comfortable with advising you on supplement use, ask if he or she can refer you to a qualified supplement-savvy health practitioner. But keep in mind that because of a lack of research on side effects, just how a supplement may interact with a medication isn't known.

Talk to your doctor if you don’t think you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. They can help you decide which micronutrients you need. They also can recommend a dietary supplement. This will depend on your overall health and lifestyle. Supplements can cause problems with cancer treatments or surgery. Your doctor will know if they interact with any health conditions you have.
Vitamin A can become toxic when taken in large amounts (over 100,000 International Units) on a daily basis over time, as can vitamin D. Substituting beta-carotene for vitamin A can alleviate this risk. Very large doses of minerals taken over long periods may have toxic effects in the body. Dosages far exceeding RDA's of vitamins are not recommended, nor are large doses of other supplements.
6. Keep healthy foods in larger packages and containers, and unhealthy foods in smaller ones. Big boxes and containers tend to catch your eye more, take up space in your kitchen and pantry, and otherwise get in your way. As a result, you’re more likely to notice them and eat them. Meanwhile, smaller items can hide in your kitchen for months. (Just take a look at what you have lying around right now. It’s probably small cans and containers.)
×