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    Food is the best way to get all the nutrients you need. But if you think your diet might miss the mark, supplements could help.

    Not sure if you’re on track or running low on any vitamins or minerals? Your doctor or a registered dietitian can help you find out. In some cases, they may give you a blood test, to check on things like your vitamin D level. But they will probably just need to hear about your typical eating habits. To help out, jot down what you eat and drink for a couple of days.

    Step 1: Find Out What You Need

    Your nutritional needs depend on:

    • Your age
    • The types of foods you eat 
    • Any medical conditions you have
    • What health problems you’re likely to get

    For instance, if you’re at risk for osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D. Or if you are a woman who might get pregnant, it’s important for you to take folic acid, which helps prevent certain types of birth defects. Or if you are working on better heart health, your plan might include omega-3s.

    Step 2: Shop Smart

    Use these tips to help you choose your supplements wisely.

    Do your homework: Look up what each supplement does, and its risks and benefits. “A lot of people are just grabbing stuff off the shelf because they heard about it on TV or because people are talking about it,” says Jim White, a registered dietitian and a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. When in doubt, ask your doctor. If something sounds too good to be true ...

    Check for seals of approval:, NSF Internationals, and U.S. Pharmacopeia are independent organizations that do tests to see if the ingredients on the label are in the container and the product is up to their standards. But they don’t test to see if the supplement has a particular health effect or is safe.

    Make sure you get the answers for these 4 questions:

    • What are the benefits?
    • Does this have any risks?
    • How much of this do I take?
    • How long should I take it?

    Questions? Call the maker. They can answer questions about ingredients and how much to take, for instance.

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