Should I Take Supplements?

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 2 Minutes

According to a government survey, over half of American adults take dietary supplements, making supplements a multi-billion-dollar industry. But do we really need to be emptying our wallets for herbal pills, protein powders, and concentrated vitamins and minerals? Taking supplements could actually be harmful, so let’s take a look at why you may or may not need a supplement.

What Are Supplements?

Supplements are defined in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) as “intended to supplement the diet containing one or more dietary ingredients including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances or their constituents.” In simple terms, supplements should be thought of as just that – a supplement to an already healthy diet. A supplement’s intended use is to help correct nutritional deficiencies that may be due to illness, times of high stress, or certain life phases.

Do You Need Supplements?

If you’re eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, then you most likely don’t need supplements. The best way to get all your daily nutrients is from our food. Although eating a healthy diet should get us the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals, some health professionals recommend taking an appropriate multivitamin as a “safety net.” This is because soil for modern crops may fall short of the abundant minerals that it once had.

We also buy food that spends a lot of time traveling to get from the farm to the store, which causes nutrient loss. Modern advances have helped replenish those less plentiful nutrients, though, making it easier for us to make up for any losses. For example, we can now buy milk fortified with vitamin D and cereals fortified with vitamin B12.

Questions For Your doctor

If you think you may have a true nutritional deficiency, consider some of these causes and populations that are at higher risk. Check with your physician about any concerns, such as:

  • Having a poor appetite with fewer calories in a day. This can cause you to lack a balanced diet of vitamins and minerals. Poor appetite could be caused by illness, medications, or stress.
  • Suffering from food allergies or following a diet that limits entire food sources such as a dairy allergy, Celiac disease, vegetarian and vegan diets.
  • Women looking to become pregnant, who are pregnant, or are breastfeeding requiring additional nutrients.
  • Older adults generally are less efficient in absorbing certain nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin D due to the natural aging process.
  • Adolescents as they experience rapid growth and changes in their bodies. Females especially may need to consider iron supplementation.
  • Those on certain medications or who have been diagnosed with a health condition that alters their body’s ability to use nutrients (such as Crohn’s disease).

Stick to Safe Supplements

Because supplements aren’t regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), it’s important to know what to look for if purchasing a supplement. Keep your eye on a USP Verified Mark. USP sets the standards for quality supplement products, ensuring the product is what it says it is and won’t do you any harm. If you’re considering a product without this USP mark, ask your doctor or dietitian first before purchasing.

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Actionable Steps



Review your current diet and any symptoms that make you feel “off.” Could you be deficient?


Talk to your doctor or dietitian.

Check with your physician or dietitian before taking any supplements. Typically, they’ll assess your blood work as well as review symptoms.


Do your research.

When purchasing supplements, know what to look for to ensure it’s safe (the USP Verified Mark). Check out these buying tips by McKel.



Supplements don’t replace a healthy diet, they add to it. Continue eating a healthy, balanced diet of whole foods and drinking water throughout the day, together with your supplements.


Read the longer version.

To learn more, read these articles reviewed by our professionals: Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements: Do You Need to Take Them by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Should I Take Supplements by McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN, and Do You Need A Daily Supplement by Harvard Medical School.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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