'I recommend the savvy approach to supplementation. Foods first. Foods always come first.'
Dr. Catherine Peterson is an Associate Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri. She spoke about the safest and most effective way to decide what dietary supplements you should be taking – if any at all.
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Dr. Catherine Peterson: Individuals can choose to take dietary supplements on their own, they do not need a health care provider to recommend them. Although, it's probably not a bad idea, but it's not required.
But I would recommend that anyone wishing to take a dietary supplement, especially if the dietary supplement [is something other] than a traditional vitamin, mineral or protein, that they do their homework. They are not regulated by the FDA, so the burden is really on the individual to be their own advocate.
Firstly, they need to research the actual dietary supplement they want to take – whether it's an herbal or something marketed as a dietary supplement. They need to find out about that particular compound or substance and research to see first, does it do anything? Is it efficacious, in other words.
I would also do a little research on the brand or the manufacturer from whom you're choosing to purchase that dietary supplement. So, there are lots of resources out there. For example, one of my favorites is the Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. They have a wonderful encyclopedia, if you will, of just about any dietary supplement out there.
"Foods always come first. Ideally, you should be able to get all of the nutrients that you need, and I'm talking about traditional nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water."Dr. Catherine Peterson
Look it up alphabetically; it will give you not only what the research is on how effective it is, it'll give you the safety profile. It'll tell you about interactions that they may have with other supplements or drugs.
What I recommend is what we call the savvy approach to supplementation. Foods first. Foods always come first. Ideally, you should be able to get all of the nutrients that you need, and I'm talking about traditional nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. Those are the six classifications of nutrients. So, food first.
For nutrients that you cannot get through food, for whatever reason, say for example, you are lactose intolerant. That may mean, for you, dairy is very difficult to get in, and dairy is the best source of calcium, or the most abundant source of calcium in the American diet. So, you've got dairy off your table. So now, how are you going to get your calcium?
Well, then you may want to go to – the second step would be fortification; you can find foods that have been fortified. So for example, there's orange juice that's been fortified with calcium. So, someone who doesn't drink milk could use orange juice that is fortified with calcium to meet their calcium.
If that doesn't work, then we start talking about supplementation. As to a multivitamin or multimineral preparation, most of the research that I've read kind of says, “Eh, I don't think it does much.” Some of the research that has looked at longevity or susceptibility to illness for people taking multivitamins really haven’t seen any benefit — not any harm — but not any benefit.
So, that's sort of my usual take on use of dietary supplements for traditional nutrients. First food, then fortification and then supplement for those who cannot get it through those other means.