Choosing a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement - Topic Overview
What is a vitamin and mineral supplement?
mineral supplement provides a variety of nutrients
that are also found in food. These supplements are often called multivitamins.
They come in the form of pills, chewable tablets, powders, and liquids.
A standard multivitamin usually contains:
- Water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins pass
in and out of the body easily. Most do not build up in the body's cells.
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins: thiamine,
riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin,
folic acid, and
- Fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins
are stored in the body's cells and do not pass out of the body as easily as
water-soluble vitamins do. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and
- Minerals. These include
calcium, copper, iron,
potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Some multivitamins also contain other ingredients that
aren't vitamins or minerals. These include substances such as the
antioxidants lutein and lycopene.
Why take a supplement?
The best way to get the
vitamins and minerals you need is by eating a wide variety of healthy foods. A
supplement can't make up for unhealthy eating habits. But sometimes even people
who have healthy eating habits find it hard to get all the fruits, vegetables,
and other healthy foods they need. A supplement can help fill in the
Certain people are more likely to need a supplement. They
- People who eat a calorie-restricted diet, which does not provide enough vitamins and minerals.
- Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- People who are sick, injured, or recovering from surgery or who have a long-term health problem.
- Infants, especially to be sure they are getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
- People who can't or don't eat a variety of foods, such as
people who have
food allergies or people who eat a vegetarian diet.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk and milk products, and seafood as part of a nutritious food plan. Many Americans do not eat enough of these foods that provide the important nutrients calcium and vitamin D, potassium, and other key vitamins and minerals.1
What about supplements that are labeled for certain people (such as women or seniors)?
Many supplements are advertised as being
specially designed for men or for women or for certain age groups. A standard
multivitamin is usually all that a healthy adult needs. But some people prefer
to take a supplement that is made for their gender or age group.
Types of specialized supplements include:
- Women's formulas. Women's supplements have
extra iron. This is because women who are still having periods need more iron
than men do. But after
menopause, women's iron needs are the same as men's.
Some women's formulas also contain extra calcium, since women are more likely
than men to get
- Men's formulas. These are
lower in iron, because men need less iron than women.
formulas. These are made for older adults and usually have less iron and
vitamin K and more vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
- Prenatal formulas.
These are made for women who are pregnant, are planning to get pregnant, or are
breast-feeding. The supplements have extra folic acid and iron. Folic acid is
especially important because it can help prevent certain birth defects,
neural tube defects. Sometimes these supplements also
have more calcium.