Q: Do I really need to take vitamins and supplements or is it better to focus on eating nutrient-dense foods? Which vitamins and supplements are most important for women?
A: You should always focus on eating nutrient-dense foods; however there is a place for smart supplementation of vitamins and minerals in your diet. Whole foods should be the cornerstone of your healthy diet, as this is the most effective way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs. Nature has perfectly packaged many foods to contain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are complimentary to one another. Some vitamins come in several different forms, and it is usually only through eating whole foods that you'll take in every version. For example, there are eight different forms of vitamin E, but synthetic vitamin E supplements are primarily only one of those forms (alpha-tocopherol).
Aim to get the majority of your daily vitamin and mineral needs from food, but here are three supplements that can come in handy:
Multivitamin/Mineral: A basic multivitamin/mineral supplement is a good insurance policy to take out on your body. They're inexpensive, you don’t need to by the ones that cost $40/month, and they can help replenish any vitamin or mineral needs that you diet is not covering. Take your multivitamin/mineral first thing the morning with breakfast and you're done for the day. Just remember that your multivitamin/mineral supplement isn't going to work miracles, and it won't replace the bulk of vitamins and minerals that you need to get from your diet. But it will make sure that you are covering all your bases.
Vitamin D: You can get vitamin D from both food and sunlight, but you may not be getting enough. Women have lower vitamin D levels than men, and living in the northern parts of the United States and/or having darker skin makes you even more likely to have lower levels of vitamin D. Research has linked vitamin D to reducing your risk of breast cancer, so supplementing your diet with 2,000 I.U. of vitamin D per day is a safe way to ensure that you're getting enough--regardless of your sun exposure or complexion.
Iron: While you may not always need to supplement your diet with iron, it's always important to ensure that your body is getting an adequate amount, as iron helps fight fatigue, optimizes oxygen utilization in your body, and boosts your immune system. A surrogate marker of your body’s iron status, your hematocrit, is measured with most standard blood tests, so make sure to bring it up with your physician next time you have blood drawn and supplement as necessary.
Meet the Diet Doctor: Mike Roussell, PhD
Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD holds a bachelor degree in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University. Mike is the founder of Naked Nutrition, LLC, a multimedia nutrition company that provides health and nutrition solutions directly to consumers and industry professionals via DVDs, books, ebooks, audio programs, monthly newsletters, live events, and white papers. To learn more, check out Dr. Roussell's popular diet and nutrition blog, MikeRoussell.com.