Supplements and Safety

Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
Supplements and Safety - Nutrients from Food


More is not always better, especially when adding supplements to your diet. For instance, according to research, higher doses of certain vitamins and minerals could actually increase your chances of heart disease.

And people with an increased risk for lung cancer should also avoid supplementation. In this population, supplemental beta-carotene (at a dose of 60 to 120 milligrams per day), for example, is associated with an increase in death from all causes, including cardiovascular death. Patients who smoked and took beta-carotene supplements experienced similar risk.

Get Vitamins and Minerals through Food

There is a better way to get your vitamins and minerals — from food. A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and unsalted nuts is associated with reduced disease risk. Eating a wide variety of foods will help you get the full benefit of these nutrients.

For example, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals are all high in vitamin E. Folate/folic acid can be found in orange juice, spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, peanuts, avocado, enriched-grain products and fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin B6 is found in baked potatoes, bananas, beef, fish, fortified cereals, whole grains, nuts, beans, pork, chicken and fish; while vitamin B12 is abundant in milk and dairy foods, meat, fish (especially salmon), poultry and eggs. Finally, beta-carotene can be found in yellow and orange fruits (such as cantaloupe, mango and papaya), orange root vegetables (including pumpkin, carrot and yam sweet potato) and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale).

In addition to lowering your risk of heart disease, your eating plan should be low in saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in some meats, full-fat dairy products, baked goods and deep-fried and highly processed foods. Saturated fats raise your LDL, or "bad" cholesterol level. Your diet should also be low in added salt and sugar. A low-salt diet can help manage blood pressure, while limiting added sugar can help prevent weight gain.

Bottom line: Rather than filling your medicine cabinet with supplements, fill your kitchen and pantry with high-fiber foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in these elements helps lower LDL cholesterol and provides nutrients that may help protect against heart disease.

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