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Supplements and Safety

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: April 13, 2020

Reviewed: April 10, 2020

Supplements and Safety
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For some people, vitamins and supplements may help fill in the gap for nutrient needs they may be unable to meet through foods. However, there is little evidence to support taking supplements to prevent chronic disease. In fact, high doses of some vitamins and minerals may actually have negative side effects and increase the risk of some conditions.

For instance, a large scale study found that people who either smoke or have a history of smoking increased their risk of developing lung cancer, as well as dying from cardiovascular disease, when they also took beta-carotene supplements.

And many vitamins and minerals have an upper limit (a value that is higher than the amount your body needs in a day and indicates the most your body may be able to handle without negative side effects) set at a level that is hard to reach with food alone.

Get Vitamins and Minerals through Food

Eating a wide variety of foods can help you meet your nutrient needs and provide additional benefits foods have to offer, such as dietary fiber and antioxidants.

For example:

  • Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals all are high in vitamin E.
  • Folate or 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.
  • Vitamin B12 is abundant in milk and dairy foods, meat, fish (especially salmon), poultry and eggs.
  • A form of vitamin A, known as beta-carotene, can be found in yellow and orange fruits (such as cantaloupe, mango and papaya), orange root vegetables (including pumpkin, carrots and sweet potatoes) and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale).

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

If you're unsure if the eating style you follow is meeting your needs, consult a doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist before starting a new supplement routine.

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