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Get Street-Wise About Supplements

Tips to Becoming Supplement Savvy
  -- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian
Going to the drug store lately can feel a little like a Saturday morning trip to the candy shop, with dozens and dozens of colorful vitamin and mineral supplements to choose from! Can’t you just sample a little bit of everything?

If you’re considering a supplement, heed some familiar advice—choose wisely and carefully. Filling up on this type of "candy" can do more harm than good.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are so popular that you can buy them just about anywhere—the drug store, grocery store, mall, the internet, and through home-based distributors. But do you really need them? Will they improve your health? Are they safe? How can you avoid being ripped off?

Food Is Still Best
Before you clear a medicine cabinet shelf to stock up on supplements, remember this truth: Food is still the #1 option for getting the nutrients you need for healthy living. A balanced multivitamin supplement is second best and is usually safe. Beyond that, individual nutrient supplements should only be chosen in special cases.

It is true that vitamins and minerals are essential in regulating various body activities. These nutrients do not function alone but work together with other nutrients. The best source of vitamins and minerals is food. Food provides the complete package. A balanced diet already contains the correct nutrients in just the right amounts. Individual foods also provide hundreds of other substances such as phytochemicals, zoochemicals, and antioxidants that help to prevent disease and boost the immune system. <pagebreak>

True, it can be frustrating and possibly frightening to not know if you’re getting enough of a certain nutrient. That’s where the SparkPeople Nutrition Tracker can help. Before you go supplement shopping, use the Nutrition Tracker to get a clear picture of your nutrient levels. You may not need to change anything!
Who Needs a Supplement?
The decision to take a supplement should not be made haphazardly. It is best to seek advice from your physician or consult with a registered dietitian. This health professional should assess your dietary habits and intake, medical status, medication history, alcohol intake, and lifestyle habits. Some people who may need to take a multivitamin-mineral supplement include:
Being Supplement Savvy 
Do not fall into the dangerous trap of thinking that, if a little is good, more is better. Excessive intake of vitamins and minerals can do no good. It is a waste of money. And in some cases, excessive intake can damage the body, have a toxic effect, interfere with medications, and may even result in death. To choose a safe, effective vitamin-mineral supplement, follow these tips: Bottom Line: A poor diet plus supplements is still a poor diet. Food remains your best source of vitamins and minerals. So spend a little more time and money on delicious, tasty meals and snacks to meet your nutritional needs. And remember, a supplement is just that…a little extra in addition to wise food choices. This little extra poses no danger and may be helpful at times– if chosen wisely.