• Taylor Leahy - Dietitian

Vitamins: When you can't meet your needs in the kitchen.

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

With so many brands and advertisements out there it can be hard to choose which vitamin to take! Read this quick run down below to help get you on the right track and for a brief overview see this short news segment I did with my local news station.


Why would I need to take a vitamin?

As much as dietitians would love for individuals to meet their nutritional needs in the kitchen rather than the medicine cabinet, we know that is not realistic or sometimes feasible for everyone. There are many different medical conditions that require increased needs of certain vitamins due to the body's inability to absorb nutrients well, or simply due to increased needs. When a woman is of child bearing age (and especially when considering having a child) it is recommended to be taking a prenatal vitamin. If someone has had surgery or has a wound that needs help healing, if a person's food intake is not very healthy or variable, if an individual is choosing a vegan or vegetarian way of eating there will need to be some supplementation, or if there is heavy alcohol use are all good reasons to consider taking a daily multivitamin, or specific ones (targeted supplementation) if needed.


To start, always talk with you doctor about any and all vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other supplements you may be considering. Obtaining new lab work to understand if you are deficient in any certain area is essential. As a rule of thumb, we want to always try to eat a wide range of colorful and varied foods as different colors of our produce contain different vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals which are nutrients in the food that can help fight back against stress and help repair our body.


Vitamins each have different jobs, they work in different areas of the body, and are absorbed in the GI tract in different areas. They help us resist infections, keep our nerves healthy, and help our body get energy from food or our blood to clot properly.


Vitamins and minerals are measured in a variety of ways. When taking a vitamin it is important to understand how much is recommended so that we dont take too much. The most common measurements are:

  • mg – milligram

  • mcg – microgram

  • IU – international unit

Which vitamins should I take and how much is too much?

To see the recommended intake of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals you may need, see this chart from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

To find these vitamins in our diet we need to eat:

Vitamin A - liver, kidney, milk, egg yolk, yellow and dark leafy green vegetables, apricots, cantaloupe, and peaches.

Vitamin D - fortified milk and cheeses, egg yolk, salmon, tuna fish, and sunlight!

Vitamin E - Wheat germ, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, and nuts.

Vitamin K - Soybean oil, green leafy vegetables, and wheat bran.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) - organ meats, legumes, whole-grain and enriched cereals and breads, wheat germs, and potatoes.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) - Milk and daily sources, organ meats, green leafy vegetables, enriched cereals and breads, eggs.

Niacin - Fish, beef, poultry, many grains, eggs, peanuts, milk, legumes, and enriched grains.

Pantothenic acid - All plant and animal foods, eggs, salmon, and yeasts are the best sources.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) - pork, cereal bran and germ, milk, egg yolk, oatmeal, and legumes.

Folate - green leafy vegetables, lean beef, wheat, eggs, fish, dry beans, lentils, cow-peas, asparagus, broccoli, collard greens, and yeast.

Biotin - Liver, mushrooms, peanuts, yeast, milk, egg yolk, most vegetables, banana, grapefruit, tomato, watermelon, and strawberries.

Vitamin C - citrus fruits, tomato, melon, pepper, greens, raw cabbage, guava, strawberries, pineapple, potato, and kiwi.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine) - Animal liver and kidneys, milk and daily products, meals and eggs.

*This list is by no means all inclusive.


How do I choose the right kind of vitamin and how do I know it is safe?

Vitamins, minerals, herbs, and supplements are NOT regulated by the FDA like medications. Make sure you are getting good quality products.

Supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body. If a product is found to be unsafe after it reaches the market, the FDA can restrict or ban its use. From the National Institutes of Health - Office of Dietary Supplements we read that "dietary supplements are complex products. The FDA has established good manufacturing practices (GMPs) for dietary supplements to help ensure their identity, purity, strength, and composition. These GMPs are designed to prevent the inclusion of the wrong ingredient, the addition of too much or too little of an ingredient, the possibility of contamination, and the improper packaging and labeling of a product.



The FDA periodically inspects facilities that manufacture dietary supplements.

In addition, several independent organizations offer quality testing and allow products that pass these tests to display their seals of approval. These seals of approval provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants. These seals of approval do not guarantee that a product is safe or effective. Organizations that offer this quality testing include" the following:


U.S. Pharmacopeia

ConsumerLab

NSF International


Some tips:

  • Tell all of your health care providers about any dietary supplements you use. Some supplements can interact with medications or affect medical conditions.

  • Read the label instructions for use and dosage.

  • “Natural” doesn’t always mean safe. For up-to-date news about the safety of particular supplements, check out the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Alerts and Advisories.

  • Too much might be harmful. Don’t take more than the recommended dose.

To check out popular herbs click here to find out the basics, what the science says, potential side effects, and more resources.


To look up a particular vitamin, mineral, herb, or supplement product click here.


References:

1. National Institute of Health. Dietary supplement label database. https://dsld.nlm.nih.gov/dsld/. Updated 2019. Accessed April 13, 2019.

2. National Sanitation Foundation. Who is NSF international? http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/who-is-nsf-international. Updated 2019. Accessed April 13, 2019.

3. Harvard Medical School. What patientsand doctors need to know about vitamins and supplements. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/patients-doctors-know-vitamins-supplements-2018031613418. Updated March 16, 2018. Accessed April 13, 2019.

4. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Herbs at a glance. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/herbsataglance.htm. Updated June 12, 2018. Accessed April 13, 2019.

5. US Food and Drug Association. Fortify your knowledge about vitamins. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm118079.htm. Updated 9/26/2018. Accessed April 13, 2019.

6. National Institutes of Health. Office of dietary supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/. Updated 2019. Accessed April 13, 2019.

7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for americans 2015-2020, 8th edition. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Updated December 2015. Accessed March 23, 2019.

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