To Supplement or not to Supplement: That is the Question

By Kat Brown, Recent Arizona State University Nutrition Student 

What is the deal with supplements anyway? What ones should I be taking? How much should I be taking? When do I take them? Do I take them with food or without? Taking a stroll down the vitamin aisle at your local grocery store is enough to throw anyone into a panic. So how do you sift through all of the options and decide where you should spend your money?

The best answer is in the produce aisle. When possible it is recommended to maximize your nutrient intake by eating whole foods, fruits, and vegetables. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) also believes that it is best to first get nutrients from foods and then fill in the gaps with vitamins when necessary. Eating whole foods that provide vitamins and minerals deliver a multitude of benefits that can provide a wide array of health benefits and provide a well-rounded diet. When taking a supplement you are consuming something that has been modified or made in a factory and isolated so you may be missing out on the added benefits that whole foods provide. However, if you cannot get certain nutrients due to dietary restrictions, supplements may be necessary.

Vitamin C

Luckily in Arizona, we have access to fresh citrus year round. Vitamin C is found in oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes, it is also found in bell peppers. The best tip for maximizing your vitamin C intake is to eat your foods immediately after cutting into them. Vitamin C is quickly oxidized once exposed so the faster you consume your fruits and vegetables the more vitamin C you will receive. For adults men should consume 90mg/day and women should consume at least 75mg/day. If you are going to take a vitamin C supplement the upper limit, or UL, is maximum recommended intake and for adults is 2,000mg/day of vitamin C.

Vitamin B complex

The vitamin B complex includes all 8 vitamin B varieties: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B12, and folic acid. Each B vitamin plays a vital role in the body and can be consumed in proteins, dairy products, and green leafy vegetables. Often time vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk for a vitamin B deficiency and will most likely need to supplement in order to meet the RDA for each vitamin B. Vitamin B deficiency can be fatal and when eating a restricted diet this may be one vitamin you may need to consider adding to your daily routine.


Magnesium is unique because the upper limit for this mineral refers specifically to the supplement form of magnesium. The RDA for this mineral is 400-420 mg/day for adult men and 310-320 mg/day for adult women, while the UL is 350mg/day. Magnesium is found in many food sources such as spinach, halibut, nuts, and legumes. It is best to consume these foods in their least processed form since magnesium content can be decreased during processing.  When consuming this mineral from foods the chances of experiencing adverse effects from high intake is very rare. However, when supplementing magnesium it can cause extreme muscle weakness due to magnesium’s relaxing effect on smooth muscle. This can lead to weakness, blurred vision, and cathartic effects. This is one mineral that is best to consume from foods!


Is often sold as a fat burning supplement to promote weight loss. The body naturally produced carnitine and it can also be consumed from meat and dairy products. When your body makes carnitine or you consume it from foods the form is called L-carnitine. In order for carnitine to work effectively, it requires a good vitamin C, B6, niacin, and iron status. Additionally, when purchasing supplements often times companies will include the inactive D-carnitine form that can actually prevent your active L-carnitine from working and end up actually preventing fat burning.


The FDA does not regulate vitamins the same way that prescription drugs are regulated. Vitamin manufacturers are expected to have proof that their product is what they say it is and does what they say it does, but are not required to provide this evidence. There are companies that provide certifications for vitamin companies. When chopping for vitamins look for the USP label. USP is a third party company that certifies vitamins.

Fat-soluble or water soluble

Fat-soluble vitamins A , D, E, K dissolve in fat and are stored in body tissue, unlike water-soluble vitamins that are excreted when consumed in excess. Because they are stored over time in the body it is important to be aware of these vitamins upper limits and it is highly recommended to achieve optimal intake from food sources to prevent toxicity and negative health effects.

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