How to Choose a Vitamin

I just read the latest nutritional supplement guide from Men’s Health magazine. A little overwhelmed  (or maybe underwhelmed) by it, I picked the brain of noted San Francisco nutritionist Natalie Ledesma with whom I worked to develop the Essential Beginnings system of supplements for conception, to learn more.

Who Needs a Vitamin?

Your body needs over 40 nutrients daily. Most of the time, nutritional needs are met by eating a well balanced diet. However, in some situations it may make sense to take a supplement:

• If you have loss of appetite, taste, or smell, or have difficulty swallowing.
• If you have disorders of the digestive tract that could impair absorption of nutrients.
• If you eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day or your diet is limited by food intolerances.
• If you follow a diet that eliminates food groups, or if you eat a vegetarian diet that omits all animal products.
• If you are over age 50, nutritional requirements for vitamin B12 and vitamin D increase.
• If you’re female, postmenopausal, and not on hormone replacement, consider calcium and vitamin D to protect against bone loss.

Lost in the Vitamin Aisle?

You may think that a vitamin is a vitamin, but it is not. Start by reading the label.

Check the dose. The Daily Value (DV) is a government standard for the amount of a nutrient that prevents disease. Look for 100% of DV for Vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), Vitamins B6, B9, (folic acid), B12, A, C, D and E.
Check the iron. Unless you have anemia, are at risk for it, you may want to avoid extra iron. Iron supplements cause constipation.
Chelated or not? Chelated (“key-lated”) minerals are better absorbed because they are protected from food substances that bind it. Chelated minerals, however, may cost more.
Read formulas carefully. Consider a supplement for your age or condition. Recall that supplements are not regulated (they are considered food and not drugs) and can vary widely in content. For example, women’s formulas may have additional calcium but could lack sufficient vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium.
Avoid mega doses. High doses of the fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, D, and E and minerals iron and selenium, copper, and zinc can accumulate in the liver. Be careful taking them long term.
Avoid coloring agents (such as Yellow #5) and fillers.
Beta-carotene is a great way to take vitamin A; it does not cause vitamin A toxicity.
• When taking antioxidants such as vitamin C or E, take smaller dosages more often.
Avoid phosphorus. Too much in a supplement can prevent calcium absorption.
• The benefit of the minerals iodine, manganese, molybdenum, chloride, or boron in a supplement is not clear.
• To improve absorption, take supplements with food.

Ideally, you not only want a supplement with the right ingredients, but also one that dissolves easily and is well-absorbed, mimicking what happens naturally in the body. Designing a supplement involves complex physics including thermodynamics and may be why some supplements work better than others. It is also the reason why “naturally derived” supplements, although more expensive, may not be better than “artificial” ones. And remember that the single best vitamin for making good friends is: B1.