HealthLinkBC File #68k, November 2013
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Adults
- What are the best sources of vitamins and minerals?
- When do I need a supplement?
- What kind of supplement is best?
- Do I need large amounts of vitamins and minerals beyond a multivitamin/mineral supplement?
- Are large amounts of vitamins and minerals ever needed?
- What should I look for when choosing supplements?
- For More Information
What are the best sources of vitamins and minerals?
Food is the best source of vitamins and minerals. Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide shows you how many servings you need from each of the food groups to meet your daily nutritional needs. For more information, visit Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide at www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide.
Each food has many nutrients. For example, milk has protein, calcium, riboflavin and vitamins A, B2, B12 and D. An orange has vitamin C, folate, potassium and fibre. Eating a variety of foods from each food group will help you meet your nutritional needs.
Most people get enough vitamins and minerals from food alone; however, some people may need extra vitamins and minerals from a supplement.
When do I need a supplement?
You might need a vitamin and/or mineral supplement during certain stages of your life or if your food choices are limited.
Folate is a B vitamin found in food. Folate helps the brain and spine, or neural tube, to develop. Taking folate before and during the first 3 months of pregnancy lowers the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect.
The type of folate found in supplements in called folic acid. If you are of childbearing age or are already pregnant or breastfeeding, you should take a multivitamin/mineral supplement with 0.4 milligrams (400 micrograms) of folic acid every day. You also need to eat foods that have folate such as:
- dried beans, peas, and lentils;
- dark green leafy vegetables; and
- orange juice.
Pregnant women need extra iron to support the growth and normal brain development of the baby. 16 to 20 milligrams of iron per day from a supplement is recommended, as well as eating foods high in iron. Food sources of iron include:
- meat and poulty;
- shellfish and fish;
- iron enriched cereals; and
- lentils and dried beans.
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, talk to your health care provider about multivitamin/mineral supplements and choosing the best supplement to meet your needs.
Adults over 50 Years of Age
Adults over 50 should take a daily supplement with 400 IU (international units) of vitamin D, as well as vitamin D from food. Foods that have vitamin D include:
- fortified soy beverages and orange juice; and
- higher fat fish such as salmon and sardines.
As you age, your body absorbs less Vitamin B12 from natural sources including milk and milk products, meats, fish, poultry and eggs. Because of this, adults over 50 years of age should eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a B12 supplement. Foods fortified with vitamin B12 include some soy and rice beverages, and some soy-based meats substitutes such as veggie deli meat. Check the Nutrition Facts table on the food label to see if a food is fortified with vitamin B12.
Special Dietary Considerations
Some people need supplements because they are not able to meet their nutrient needs because of certain food choices.
Vegans (vegetarians who do not eat any animal products) need to eat vitamin B12 fortified foods or take a supplement. If you are a vegan, getting enough iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D may also be hard. You may want to take a supplement to help meet your vitamin and mineral needs.
People who do not drink milk, calcium fortified beverages, or eat foods high in calcium may need a calcium supplement. Multivitamin/mineral supplements do not have enough calcium to meet daily needs.
People with osteoporosis may also need more calcium and vitamin D. Talk with your health care provider about a supplement if you have osteoporosis.
People with poor appetites, food allergies or intolerances, illness or injuries should talk to a dietitian about their nutritional needs. A multivitamin/mineral supplement may help.
What kind of supplement is best?
Multivitamin/mineral supplements have close to the daily recommended amounts for adults, except calcium, and are a safe choice for most people. When choosing a multivitamin/mineral supplement, choose one for your age group and gender.
Do I need large amounts of vitamins and minerals beyond a multivitamin/mineral supplement?
Not usually. Avoid taking large amounts of any vitamin or mineral unless your health care provider recommends it. These can add up to more than the safe limit.
You can get the vitamins and minerals you need from food by following Canada’s Food Guide and, if desired, taking a multivitamin/mineral.
Are large amounts of vitamins and minerals ever needed?
Sometimes; your health care provider or registered dietitian may tell you to take large amounts of some vitamins or minerals to treat a specific health condition. For example, you may need an iron supplement if you have low iron in your blood.
Talk to your health care provider or registered dietitian if you have any concerns about vitamins or minerals.
What should I look for when choosing supplements?
When you buy a vitamin and mineral supplement, look for a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or Natural Product Number (NPN). A DIN or NPN means that the supplement meets Health Canada’s safety standards. Check the expiration date. Do not buy supplements that have expired or will expire before you can finish the bottle.
For More Information
For more information on how to get the vitamins and minerals you need from the 4 food groups, visit Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide at www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide.
See the following:
- HealthLinkBC File #38c Pregnancy and Nutrition: Spina Bifida and Folic Acid
- HealthLinkBC File #68c Iron and Your Health
- HealthLinkBC File #68d Iron in Foods
- HealthLinkBC File #68e Food Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D
- HealthLinkBC File #68g Folate and Your Health
- HealthLinkBC File #68j Healthy Eating and Healthy Aging for Adults
For more nutrition information, call 8-1-1 to speak with a registered dietitian.
For more HealthLinkBC File topics, visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthfiles/ or your local public health unit.
Click on www.HealthLinkBC.ca or call 8-1-1 for non-emergency health information and services in B.C.
For deaf and hearing-impaired assistance, call 7-1-1 in B.C.
Translation services are available in more than 130 languages on request.