Vitamins: What You Need And What You Don’t

vitsVitamins and minerals are essential to any diet, and research suggests they may help prevent cancer and heart disease, not to mention other health problems. But here’s a reality check: Many studies have been conducted on vitamin-containing food, but not necessarily supplements.

In fact, if you eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fortified food, you’re probably getting all you need. But supplements do offer an easy, just-in-case form of health insurance.

Do you need them? Here’s a quick guide to beneficial nutrients and what they can do for you.


Found in carrots, sweet potatoes and green peppers, among other foods, this antioxidant is converted in the body to vitamin A. It is important for healthy vision, a functioning immune system, and good skin. But the evidence isn’t really there to recommend it for staving off cancer. In fact, a 2004 study found that supplements may actually raise the risk of lung cancer in smokers.

Bottom line: Skip the supplements if you’re a smoker, and try to get your beta-carotene from fruits and veggies, whether you smoke or not.


Our bodies need calcium — mostly found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese  to maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Bottom line: Supplements aren’t a bad idea if you hate dairy and can eat only so much kale and canned sardines, but you may want to skip them if you’re prone to kidney stones or are a female over 70. A 2010 report linked supplements to heart-attack risk in older postmenopausal women. If you decide to go with supplements, don’t take more than 500 milligrams at a time, and pair them with vitamin D to improve calcium absorption.

Folic acid

Folic acid, which prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies, is found in fortified breakfast cereal, dark green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruit juice, bread, and pasta.

Bottom line: Getting 400 micrograms a day of this B vitamin, and 600 if you are pregnant or lactating, is a no-brainer. That amount should come from food, supplements, or both, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The jury’s still out as to whether folate combats cancer, heart disease, or mental illness…

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