Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that affect nearly every process in our body, and getting enough is essential for our health. But before you jump on the supplement bandwagon, read on to get all the facts.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are big business. In the quest to boost immunity and promote health and wellness, consumers spent $51.7 billion in 2019 and $61.6 billion on vitamin and mineral supplements in 2020 worldwide.

Almost half of all Americans take a multivitamin every day.

Although these supplements enjoy widespread popularity all around the globe, there are a number of factors to think about before starting a daily vitamin regimen.

Below are a few commonly asked questions, along with their answers.

Do I even really need to take a vitamin supplement?

Most nutrition experts agree that as long as you are eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and grains, it is usually not necessary to take supplements.

But for many people, eating in such a balanced way every day is a challenge. For those people, supplements may be helpful to fill in any nutritional gaps.

Who else could benefit from taking supplements?

People who are vegetarian, have intestinal conditions that impair nutrient absorption, eat less than 1,200 calories a day, have had gastric bypass surgery, who are pregnant, or who drink alcohol excessively are generally recommended to take supplements.

A simple blood test can also determine whether you are deficient in vitamins D, B12, and iron and need a supplement.

There are so many different do I choose one?

Seemingly countless supplement products are offered on the market, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to choose the right one.

Unlike medications that must be proven safe and effective before being sold, vitamin supplements are not regulated or approved by the FDA, making it even more confusing to know which are high quality and which are better left on the shelf.

But there is no need to get caught up in a specific brand.  A good rule of thumb when seeking a quality, safe product is to find one that has been tested and certified by an independent third party company.

These companies ensure that the supplements are free of harmful contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides, and make sure that the ingredients listed are effective.

What is the difference between fat soluble and water soluble vitamins, and does it matter?

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. Whether a vitamin is fat soluble or water soluble will dictate how it works in the body.

Fat soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s tissues, and are absorbed best when dietary fat is also ingested. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K, and tend to stay in the body.

Because of this, it is possible to ingest too much of a fat soluble vitamin, which over time can lead to health problems. Make sure you are only sticking to the recommended amount of these vitamins.

Water soluble vitamins dissolve in water. They are transported to the body’s tissues but are not stored there, so they must be taken in daily.

Vitamins C and B complex are water soluble, and can be found in plant foods as well as dairy, meat, and legumes.

Are there any risks to taking supplements?

Vitamins and mineral supplements help to bridge the gaps when eating alone is not enough to get all the nutrients we need, but there are certain risks to be aware of before taking supplements.

A multivitamin is generally considered safe for most people, but it can also raise your risk of getting too much of some nutrients like vitamin A, iron, niacin, zinc, and folate.

You should always check the %DV, or percent daily value, to make sure what you are taking each day does not far exceed the 100% recommended amount. This is especially true if you eat and drink lots of fortified foods and beverages, like vitamin drinks or cereals.

Certain substances, vitamins, and minerals can also interact with one another if taken at the same time.

For example, caffeine should not be consumed along with vitamin C, iron, or calcium. Iron should be taken with vitamin C to enhance absorption. Iron and calcium should not be taken together because calcium inhibits the absorption of iron, and zinc and copper should not be ingested together, as the zinc can interfere with copper’s absorption.

Supplements with up to 100% DV of nutrients do not typically interact with medications, but consult with your healthcare provider if you are on a blood thinner and taking a multivitamin, as the vitamin K found in the supplement can affect the medication’s effectiveness.

The bottom line

It is important to remember that supplements are meant to do just that - supplement the nutrients you are already taking in, not replace them.

Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods is the best way to get your nutrition.  Foods offer us  more than just vitamins and minerals, they also provide fiber that we need to stay healthy.

But if getting three wholesome meals a day seems beyond reach right now, taking multivitamin or single-nutrient supplements may be valuable.