Friday, 27 September 2013

Are you a supplement junkie?

How many over-the-counter supplements do you take every day? Are you one of those with a medicine cabinet full of various types of dietary supplements, each day popping up to 10 pills of different supplements and drinking all sorts of 'health' juices, thinking you're keeping 'healthy'?

The problem is, you could be doing yourself more harm than good. Consuming more than the recommended daily intake (RDI) of any vitamin or mineral can be detrimental to your health.

Today, persons are becoming more health conscious, lead busy lives and don't understand how to make healthy food choices and, therefore, find themselves depending on nutrition or dietary supplements for energy and nutrients that they could get from eating local and basic foods.

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, a supplement is a product intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following:
  • A vitamin
  • A mineral
  • A herb or another botanical
  • An amino acid
A dietary substance to supplement the diet, which can be an extract or a combination of the first four ingredients in the list.

When persons are asked why they use supplements, the answers vary from being too busy to eat right, or claiming that the foods now don't have enough vitamins and minerals available due to the high usage of fertilisers and pesticides or that their body is not able to use the vitamins from the food they are eating. Why do you take supplements?

Eating a balanced diet with foods from all six Caribbean food groups is of more benefit than popping a whole bunch of supplements or drinking various liquid from unidentified sources.

Have you ever eaten a meal and then feel sluggish, tired and fatigued? Have you ever wondered why? This could be as a result of you not consuming sufficient amounts of vitamins in the diet because you're not having balanced meals, so instead of buying a vitamin supplement:

  1. Ensure that your meals have sufficient amounts of vitamins in the form of fresh fruits or vegetables.
  2. An adult should consume five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day. A serving of fruit is four ounces, whether whole or as an unsweetened juice. A serving of vegetable is four ounces cooked or one cup raw.
  3. Fruits and vegetables have vitamins that release the energy from the carbohydrates, fat and protein from our meals. So with fruits and vegetables consumed with the meals, we will get the energy necessary to carry on after we have eaten.


There is an increased awareness of heart disease being the number one killer in Jamaica today and as such persons are purchasing mega-doses of omega-3 and omega-6 supplements. It is not necessary to use these supplements if one is consuming a diet rich in peas, beans, vegetable oil, nuts and fish, especially sardines, mackerel and tuna.

Omega-3 is found in canola and soybean oils and margarine, nuts and fish such as tuna, sardines and mackerel. The RDI is 1.1-1.6 grams and three-ounce sardines provide 1.4grams or two tablespoons of flaxseed or 14 walnuts.

Overconsumption of omega 3 may cause uncontrollable bleeding.

Omega-6 is found in corn, soybean and sunflower oils or meats. The RDI is 12-17 grams. According to experts, it is rare that persons are deficient in omega-3 or six fatty acids.


Calcium and iron are the most supplemented minerals. Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth and iron for strong blood.

Calcium is found in milk, cheese, small bones in sardines and mackerel and dark green leafy vegetables. The RDI is 1000-1200mg and one cup cow's milk or three-ounce sardines provide about 300mg.

Iron is found in meat, dried peas and beans and dark green leafy vegetables. RDI is 18mg and three-ounce beef liver provides 5mg or one cup beans provide about 4mg.

Calcium is not absorbed well when eaten with dried peas and beans and wheat bran due to the phytic acid content.

For iron to be absorbed, eat meal with a vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable or juice.

Care must be taken when consuming certain nutrients to ensure that it is absorbed and used by the body. It may be that the diet is not lacking in certain nutrients but there was a poor mix of nutrients. Hence no need for supplementation.

Excessive amounts of vitamins B and C are passed out of the body with the kidneys, making extra urine. Vitamins A, D, E and K are not passed out of the body, but stored in the liver and can become toxic and cause illnesses.


  1. Eat a variety of foods from all six Caribbean food groups to ensure a balance in all nutrients and there will be no need for supplementation.
  2. Consume three main meals per day with adequate fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.
  3. When in doubt or before you buy supplements, see a registered dietitian or registered nutritionist for a nutrition assessment and an individualised meal plan.
  4. If not convinced about not taking a supplement, take a low dose on days when the diet is inadequate in vitamins and minerals.
  5. If you feel you need a supplement, taking a high-quality multi-vitamin that has the proper blend of nutrients and right amount of RDI should be adequate for whatever deficiencies you feel you may have.
  6. Do not use supplements that provide more than 200 per cent of RDI.
  7. When water-soluble vitamins are taken in large amounts, as is the case with most supplements, the kidneys have to work extra to get rid of excess vitamins through the urine (expensive urine). Save your liver and kidneys from overworking by reducing the amount of supplements taken!

Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: