By Guest Contributor Erica Julson, R.D.
As a Registered Dietitian, I am frequently asked the question, “Should I be taking multivitamins or supplements?” In general, I am a fan of getting your nutrients from a well-balanced diet that includes about 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and lots of fiber. I believe in real food, mindful eating, and self-care to help your body absorb and utilize the nutrients it needs. However….
Most people are NOT eating a well-balanced diet. Only about 13% of American adults eat enough fruit each day, and only about 9% eat enough vegetables. Yikes! Fruits and vegetables are one of the main sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. If you’re not eating enough of them (at least 2 1/2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veg), there’s a high likelihood that you’re not getting enough of one or more nutrients.
Even if you eat a well-balanced diet, you could still have issues with digestion/absorption, medical conditions like depression and diabetes, or medications like antacids, antibiotics, birth control pills, and more that affect your nutrient status. In case that wasn’t enough, your genetics also play a role. Even if you are doing everything right, you could have genetic polymorphisms (or SNPs) that impact how you utilize nutrients within your body. For example, many people have mutations in their MTHFR gene that affect how their body metabolizes folate and vitamin B12, and can lead to elevated homocysteine levels (a risk factor for heart disease).
Sometimes people can go for years without realizing they are undernourished. Symptoms vary widely, depending on which nutrient(s) you are deficient in, but common symptoms include: Fatigue and lack of energy, low immunity, or feeling a little “off” & not at your best. Less-obvious symptoms can include: Weak or brittle nails, scaly skin, excessive bruising, poor wound healing, infertility, increased inflammation, cataracts/macular degeneration, numbness/tingling in hands & feet, night blindness, and muscle spasms or cramps.
If you’re not sure if you could benefit from supplements, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables every day?
- Do I eat fish twice a week?
- Do I make sure at least half the grains I eat are whole grains?
- Do I curb my alcohol intake to moderate limits? (No more than 1 drink/day for women, or 2 drinks/day for men)
- Do I get at least 15 minutes of direct sunlight on most of my body each day?
- Do I feel vibrant, well, and full of life and vitality?
If you answered “No” to any of the above questions, it is likely that you could benefit from micronutrient testing & a multivitamin or specific supplement (like fish oil or vitamin D). Working with a nutrition professional can help you uncover potential food-drug interactions, malabsorption issues, and genetic variants that might be affecting your nutrient status, and help you plan a lifestyle and eating pattern that maximizes your health.
*Please note* This is not intended to be specific medical advice for any individual. Please see a doctor or nutrition professional if you would like personalized recommendations.
Erica Julson is a food & wellness lover, cooking enthusiast, and registered dietitian nutritionist. Her mission is to help you reclaim health through cooking & personalized nutrition. She runs a nutrition counseling practice in Los Angeles, CA specializing in food sensitivity testing for IBS, fibromyalgia, and migraines, and teaching the art of whole food cooking.