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Missing Nutrients in Your Food

Even the most conscientious eaters may have dietary deficiencies.

Are Supplements as Good as Nutrients in Food?

It might seem a lot simpler to take supplements and avoid the hassle of hunting down nutrients in natural food. But experts feel that supplements should generally be a last resort.

"I always tell people to try to get nutrients from food first," says Gidus. As the name suggests, supplements are supposed to supplement a healthy diet -- not replace important nutrients. Besides, many studies of supplements have found that they don't offer as many health benefits as nutrients found naturally in food.

There are cases where your doctor might recommend a supplement. For instance, if you're at risk of osteoporosis, your doctor might want you to take calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong.

Gidus still doesn't have a problem with taking a daily multivitamin. "I tell people it's OK to use a multivitamin as a cheap insurance policy," she tells WebMD.

However, you should be careful not to get too much of some nutrients. More isn't always better. Some nutrients can become toxic in high doses. And since so many foods are fortified these days, it's easier to get too much of some nutrients than it used to be.

Whatever you do, don't take supplements willy-nilly. Take a look at your diet first to see if you really need them and then talk with your doctor.

Am I Getting Enough of These Nutrients in Food?

It's not easy to know if you're getting enough of the important nutrients lacking in the traditional American diet. You can look for some -- like fiber and vitamin C-- on nutrition labels. But you're not going to find all of them listed -- like magnesium and potassium, for instance.

What's the solution? Should you keep detailed records of your diet, and eat all meals with a scale and a calculator to tabulate your mineral intake? No, the experts say. "Don't get too worried about the exact amounts," says Gidus.

Instead, just try to eat a wide variety of foods, focusing on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains especially. It's the best way to cover your bases and get all these nutrients in food. Again, try not to get too focused on what you shouldn't eat. Don't scan the label looking for a reason to reject a food. Instead, look for reasons to include it.

"So what if a food has a little fat or a little sugar?" Gidus says. "It might have important nutrients that you really need too."

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Reviewed on May 12, 2009
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