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Do you need a supplement?

Vitamins and minerals have numerous functions in our body. Some people are at nutritional risk and need a dietary supplement more than other people. Pregnant women, breast-feeding women and those capable of becoming pregnant have special nutritional needs.

Young children and older adults may also be at nutritional risk. Strict vegetarians, people who smoke and those who drink more than two alcoholic beverages per day often are advised to take a supplement.

When choosing a dietary supplement, always talk to your doctor or other health-care provider before taking, as some can interfere with prescription or over-the-counter medications.

If you decide to take a supplement, do your homework. Choose one that provides no more than 100 per cent of the daily value (DV) for vitamins A, C, D, E, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B12 and at least 11 minerals.

Remember that you are getting vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat. Foods, such as cereals and beverages, often are fortified with vitamins and/or minerals. You may be getting more of these nutrients than you realize, so read the labels.

Always carefully read the label before buying a supplement. Look for:

  • Directions for use — Take the supplement in the recommended dosage. Do not take a second dose when you have missed a meal.
  • Ingredient list — Check for added fillers, especially if you have allergies.
  • Expiration date — Vitamins can lose their potency through time.
  • A childproof cap — Certain vitamins and minerals can be especially toxic to children. Keep them out of the reach of young children.
  • Name of the manufacturer — Choose a known manufacturer with a good reputation.
  • Certification seal of approval — Look for supplements with the USP label. This indicates that the manufacturer of the product chose to be evaluated for quality standards of identity, purity, strength and composition of the product.

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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