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Should we take vitamin and mineral supplements?

Should we take vitamin and mineral supplements, are they a complete waste of money, do they do more harm than good? These are questions millions of people around the world ask, probably because there are so many conflicting studies.

The answer to “Should I take vitamins?” is not a simple yes or no one, says Stacey Zawacki, a Sargent College clinical assistant professor and director of the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, at Boston University.

Zawacki explains that “everyone is unique”. She says that the health care professional, usually a registered dietitian, needs to find out what the individual’s nutritional needs are, their food preferences, health goals, and other factors.

Over half of all Americans take dietary supplementsthe percentage of Americans who took vitamin and/or mineral supplements grew from 40% in 1994 to 53% in 2006.

When asked whether she takes supplements herself, Zawacki says she does not, but emphasizes that whether or not she takes them really is irrelevant. Taking supplements is a personal decision based on an individual’s knowledge about their needs, their diet and life stage.

People who are wondering whether they should take vitamin and/or mineral supplements should check with a registered dietitian. The hour-long consultation will definitely cost a great deal less than what the majority of people spend on tablets and capsules over a 12-month period.

Patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases driven by dietary factors may well have health insurance cover for counseling.

Zawacki says “What I do as a first step, is ask, ‘What are you currently eating?'” This is followed by a close analysis of the client’s diet, and checking where deficiencies may exist. If one is identified, for example, the person’s vitamin E intake is lower than what is recommended by the Institute of Medicine, before recommending vitamin E supplements, she will advise adding spinach, sunflower seeds, almonds and other vitamin-E-rich foods to their diet.

Adding foods with high targeted nutrients rather than supplements also provide the patients with protein, fiber, and other nutrients. There is no tablet or capsule that contains all that, Zawacki explained.

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