A Basic Guide to Dietary Supplements

12 terms you need to know before you head to the health store.


Amino Acids

Amino acids are molecules with four key elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. They serve as building blocks of proteins and are important to nutrition because they're a source of energy and metabolism.


Antioxidants are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. They protect and repair cells, as well as keep your immune system strong. Three major antioxidant vitamins include beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E.


Fortify means to increase something's nutritional value. In terms of supplements, fortifying happens when you add vitamins, minerals, and other good substances to something you eat or drink. A good example is milk that is "fortified" with vitamin D. You must've seen or tried those before.

Free Radicals

Although it sounds kind of awesome, free radicals are actually bad. They are atoms or molecules that have one or more unpaired electrons, which make it unstable and reactive. In turn, they can interfere with your cell's ability to function properly. Luckily, there's something you can do to prevent free radicals from doing bad things. The solution: antioxidants, which help stabilize free radicals.


Megadose can be good or bad for you--it all depends on what you're getting a megadose of. For instance, a megadose of caffeine is terrible, but a megadose of vitamin C when you have a cold can be a good thing. Before you give yourself a megadose of anything--a supplement, a vitamin, etc.--do your research about the proper amount of consumption.


Micronutrients is a term used to describe vitamins and minerals like zinc, chromium, and selenium that your body needs in small amounts. You need them to process the macronutrients you also consume such as fats, proteins, and carbs.


Minerals such as calcium and magnesium are nutrients found in the earth or water, courtesy of plants and animals, that you need for nutrition's sake. Since minerals are the main component of teeth and bones in your body, they also help build cells and support nerve impulses and more.


A multivitamin is exactly what it means--it's a pill or substance that you can consume that contains more than one vitamin.


Phytochemicals, also called phytonutrients, differ from antioxidants and vitamins because they are the compounds that can be health-protecting. They're found in fruits, vegetables, and other plants, and they can include beta-carotene, lycopene, and resveratrol.

Side Effects

It's very important to note the side effects of any supplement, medicine, or multivitamin before you try it. Side effects can range from positive to negative reactions, so make sure you know what you're in for and that the pros outweigh the cons. You should also consult your doctor if the list of side effects for a supplement are a little intimidating or cause any amount of concern for you.


Supplements are vitamins, herbs, minerals, or other substances (usually in pill or liquid form) that you can take orally and are meant to correct deficiencies in your diet.


Vitamins are key elements to growth, energy, and nerve function in our bodies. They are either fat-soluble or water-soluble, and are found in plants and animals.

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