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Can I Eat All the Nutrients I Need?

Expert Advice from Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
Can I Eat All the Nutrients I Need?: Main Image
People need 3 to 5 servings of both fruits and vegetables per day for optimal nutrient intake
In an ideal world, food would supply all the nutrients needed for good health. Unfortunately, many of us don’t eat enough of the fresh, whole foods needed for optimal nutrient intake (2 to 4 servings of both fruits and vegetables per day depending on activity level). A basic multivitamin–multimineral supplement can fill in the gaps.

Multivitamin A, B, Cs

Many multivitamins provide 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of most essential vitamins and some minerals, which the Food and Nutrition Board defines as the level of intake required to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons.

A multivitamin can be a good insurance policy if:

  • Your diet is varied and you regularly eat some vegetables and fruits
  • You have no health issues or chronic conditions
  • You have no special nutrition needs, such as being pregnant or nursing

Moving beyond multis

For some groups, vitamin and mineral supplements can make the difference between health and illness. This includes the very young, the elderly, people with chronic diseases or compromised immune function, women of childbearing age, vegans and vegetarians, and people who are dieting or limiting food for other reasons.

A standard multivitamin will not address the increased need for certain nutrients for people who:

  • Are not healthy
  • Are at increased risk of developing various diseases due to genetics or lifestyle habits
  • Need to make up for deficiencies
  • Need therapeutic amounts to address existing health conditions, such as osteoporosis

Other examples include people who smoke (who may need more vitamin C), the elderly (who may need more vitamin D and calcium), and people who eat a highly processed, Western diet (who may be deficient in some minerals).

The bottom line

Remember: nothing beats a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet as the foundation for good health. Talk with your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian for information about additional supplements that may help you meet your health and wellness goals, and which you may need to avoid when using medications or managing disease.

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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