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The smart way to select a supplement

Even with the best dietary intentions, we often fall short of meeting all our nutritional needs. One answer is a daily multivitamin, which is safe, effective, and can go a long way toward correcting any nutritional deficiencies.

Of course, the ideal way to get your nutrients is still from food. Food not only supplies vitamins and minerals, but also gives us fiber and a host of other healthy compounds, like phytochemicals and antioxidants, that interact with each other in ways that supplements can't.

The scientific community used to believe that a varied, healthful diet would provide all the vitamins and minerals we need. But recent surveys show that most American diets fall short of satisfying the minimum daily requirements for several vitamins and minerals. (Still, we rarely see actual deficiencies in the U.S., simply because we eat plenty of food.)

The culprit? Often, it's life in the fast lane -- chowing down on too much fast food and not enough fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Researchers have concluded that a single daily multivitamin/mineral pill may be the answer for achieving optimum health and preventing chronic diseases.

At the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, we encourage everyone to take a daily multivitamin. This is especially important for people whose calorie prescription is less than 1,500 per day.

Under certain conditions -- for example, if you're pregnant or following a strict vegetarian diet -- you may need additional supplements. Check with your doctor or a registered dietitian for more information.

Nutritional Insurance

Approximately 40% of Americans take supplements, according to the third U.S. National Health Examination Survey. And the most popular supplement is the multivitamin.

One important point: a daily multivitamin supplements your diet; it's not intended to correct a bad diet. The benefit of a daily multi is that it can make up for minor deficiencies in your diet that could eventually help lead to chronic disease. In fact, a study published in the August 2003 Journal of Nutrition found that men and women who took multivitamins significantly reduced their risk for a first heart attack.

The body needs roughly 40 vitamins and minerals each day for good health, and it's not always easy to get all of those from food. Taking a daily multivitamin certainly won't hurt, even if your diet is already chock full of vitamins and minerals.

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