Playing it Safe with Vitamins

September 22, 2014

From the latest issue of Food, Nutrition & Science.

by Meghan Windham, MPH, RD, LD

Taking a quick trip down the vitamin and supplement aisle can be a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Being an educated consumer is the first step in making informed choices as you find yourself in the middle of the aisle searching for answers. Magazines, internet, and social media are flooded with mixed messages of “quick fix” supplements, energy boosters, and must-have vitamins; all of which can be a money marketing trap if not careful. Let’s take a closer look at how to play it safe with vitamins. 

When in doubt, remember food first! A well-balanced diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low fat dairy can fuel the body and provide the nutrients needed for daily function. However, if you find yourself lacking in a certain vitamin or mineral, first supplement with foods or beverages that have a Nutrition Facts Panel. Remember, food first!

Although a balanced diet is not always an option for those with dietary restrictions or medical complications, supplements can be important for getting calories, vitamins and minerals needed. While supplements are not the perfect substitutes for food, they can be helpful. If seeking out a supplement to help meet overall daily needs, a general multivitamin is a great way to fill the gap.  

Just as too much medication can be toxic, so can nutritional supplements if over-taking them. It is important to work with your health care team to monitor supplemental intake for side effects or potential interactions with medications. 

Know the Facts:

  • Dietary supplements are NOT required to obtain pre-market approval from the FDA.
  • FDA must show a supplement is “unsafe” before removing it from the market.
  • Be realistic – no supplement has been proven to cure any major disease.
  • Check trusted resources that test dietary supplements: NSF International (, U.S. Pharmacopia (, Informed Choice (

If it’s a boost of energy that you are seeking try out the following tips to get a jump start on health:

  1. Get quality sleep aiming for at least 8 hours per night.
  2. Manage stress with exercise or meditation. 
  3. Stay hydrated and drink enough fluids to maintain lightly colored urine. 
  4. Eat breakfast within one hour after waking up to get your metabolism going. 
  5. Eat regularly during the day with balanced snacks in between meals to control hunger. 
  6. Reduce caffeine consumption to no more than 400 mg per day. 
  7. Ensure adequate iron intake. Food sources include: red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans and soy. 

Being a wise consumer and knowing the facts when shopping down the supplement aisle can help in making an informed decision. Remember, to focus on food as your primary source of nutrients and supplements second in order to live a healthy lifestyle. 


Meghan Windham, MPH, RD, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian and is actively involved in the Mid East Texas Dietetic Association (METDA), Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (TAND) and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). She was recently awarded the 2012 Recognized Young Dietitian of the Year from TAND.