No one’s diet is perfect—so shouldn’t we all be popping supplements, or at the very least a multivitamin, every day? And with the hundreds of different supplements crowding the shelves at every grocery store and pharmacy, how can we possibly choose the right ones? For expert insight, Sharecare went to Linda Lee, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine & Digestive Center to answer the question: Should I take a pill to fill nutritional gaps in my diet?
Whether or not you should be taking supplements depends largely on what you eat. Chances are, if you follow a typical American diet—meaning one that’s high in fat and includes highly processed foods—you aren’t getting all the nutrients you need. But before you start taking handfuls of supplements you should tweak your diet to add more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. That’s because while many studies suggest that eating these foods reduces the risk of cancer, for example, no research has found that consuming large quantities of supplements is equally beneficial. How come? Maybe because munching on a whole apple or downing a salad made up of fresh greens and other vegetables allows for the intake of optimal combinations of nutrients and fiber. In other words, our gastrointestinal tracts are designed to extract those vital nutrient combinations from whole foods. When we take supplements, it’s likely that our bodies can’t utilize them efficiently or appropriately because of the absence of trace elements available in the whole food.
All that said, I believe that depending on their diet, lifestyle and other factors, certain people should take certain daily supplements. Here are a few:
Before you double back to the supplements aisle, though, keep in mind that taking too many supplements, or too much of certain ones, can be dangerous. For example, some studies associated taking 800 IU or more of vitamin E with increased mortality. And because supplements are made by a diverse group of manufacturers, the quality and purity can vary tremendously.
If you’re really looking for a one-size-fits-all way to boost your nutrient intake, I suggest mushrooms!— specifically, chanterelles, morels and maitakes (aka hens-of-the-woods). One cup of any of these, sliced, can provide up to 12% of the daily recommended value of vitamin D. (Button mushrooms, criminis and non-UV-treated portabella ‘shrooms—the label will say whether portabellas are UV-treated—don’t have this benefit.) Mushrooms contain other important nutrients too, including B vitamins and potassium. Plus, unless you’re not a fungi fan, topping a piece of grilled swordfish with a generous portion of mushrooms lightly sautéed in olive oil or tossing some into your pasta sauce is a much tastier way to boost your nutrient intake than choking down a pill.
What are your secrets to getting the nutrients you need? Leave a comment and let us know.
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