Many of us pop a multi-vitamin every morning with breakfast or coffee, trying to give our health a little boost. But if you're taking the wrong one, you could be wasting time and money.
Supplements such as multi-vitamins and fish oil can help many of us make up for what we're not getting out of our diet. But if you don't read labels for a few key pieces of information, you could do more harm to your body than good.
The variety of supplements can seem almost endless when you're staring down the plethora of choices on store shelves. From A to zinc, the labels on multi-vitamins promise a lot of health benefits - but they're not all created equally.
Ochsner's Elmwood fitness dietician Rebecca Miller says reading the back labels is a must.
"What you're really looking for on these daily percent values, you want to look for mostly 100 percent," Miller says, "because if you're above 100 percent, you're just going to excrete them and waste money if it's a water-soluble vitamin."
For instance, vitamins B and C are water-soluble. So if you're taking a multi-vitamin that promises to give you 500 percent of what you need, your body will just dispose of the extra 400 percent.
And yes, there is too much of a good thing, even a vitamin or a mineral. If it's fat-soluble, your body will store the extra in your fat, and that could lead to toxicity.
Miller also advises to look for verification from an independent body on your supplement label that the product actually contains everything promised.
"Our vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so you want to have an outside testing agency or lab verify that what they say is in here is actually in here," she says.
How and when you take your multi-vitamin matters as well.
"You should always take them with food because as you're digesting the food, you're getting the most absorption for the vitamins and minerals at the same time," Miller says.
Miller also says that, if you take a calcium supplement, take it separately from your multi-vitamin because the two will compete for absorption.
Supplements are sort of like an insurance policy. We should still get the majority of our vitamins and minerals from food.
In order to maximize the health benefits of fruits and veggies, Miller recommends, "Cook them as little as possible. Steam them, don't boil them. Cut them in big pieces – more surface area means less nutrients are lost."
Omega-3 fish oil supplements are another popular health item these days. Miller says the key to choosing one is finding one with a combined 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA. Those are the actual Omega-3 fatty nutrients that are good for heart health.
"A lot of times with your Omega-3's, you get a lot of fillers in there," says Miller.
Talk to your doctor about determining exactly how much you need of which supplement. Although most people can benefit from multi-vitamins and fish oil, your doctor can run some simple tests to verify what you need - and what you don't.
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