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Everyone Needs Supplemental Nutrition

By Sara Tiner, coordinator of scientific communication

How many times have you heard (or said), “I usually eat pretty well …” while digging in for one more potato chip or replacing lunch with a protein bar? We all take shortcuts now and then because ... life. It just happens. But over time those shortcuts have morphed into shortfalls that show up on population studies undertaken by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Reference

What are we missing?

Based on population studies, we aren’t eating enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, and milk products (although that is debatable) or oils in place of solid fats (also debatable). Reference (Page 14)

In terms of specific nutrients, we have “tenuous” intakes of vitamins A, C, D, E, and K as well as choline, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and dietary fiber.

Does it matter?

Insufficiency or outright deficiency can be a problem for the body if the deficiency persists over time. The major nutritional scourges of the past like beriberi, rickets, pellagra, goiter, and scurvy have been eradicated; new nutritional challenges clearly persist today. For example, while rickets (osteomalacia in adults) is thankfully rare, the Institute of Medicine does suggest that older adults (age 51-70) make sure to get 400 IUs of vitamin D per day to maintain bone health, while those over 70 should consume 600 IUs per day. Reference

In terms of other health effects, observational studies have linked higher vitamin D levels to better immune response, better blood glucose levels, and better overall good health. Reference However, direct links between vitamin D levels and anything other than skeletal health are still unclear, and research is ongoing. Similarly, emerging evidence suggests that “habitually low intakes of magnesium” are associated with factors related to metabolic challenges. Reference

What contributes to these shortfalls?

Aside from the deliciousness of potato chips? Just kidding. There is, of course, the personal responsibility aspect of nutrition. Ultimately, we are all responsible for how and what we eat and feed our family. But our food environment creates major barriers that over the long term contribute to poor nutritional choices. The obstacles identified by the USDA include access to underconsumed food, money to afford these foods, nutrition education, cultural norms, and “other” issues. The “other” category is defined as physical or mental challenge and unreadiness to make nutritional changes. We could also add foods designed to trigger our impulses to eat more.

So this isn’t just about willpower. It’s about transitioning farm acreage from wheat production to vegetable production to increase availability, supporting (and by this I mean pushing) efforts by corporations and schools to provide healthier choices, and changing our social food culture without losing the social part of that equation.

What can we do about it?

In this era of big data, there are a number of different program that help you track micronutrients. Plus there’s all the hard stuff like changing eating habits, not eating out as much, or cooking more. Making small daily changes like substituting a crunchy apple for some crunchy potato chips can ease these transitions.

Supplemental nutrition is another option to consider. Fiber products can support overall dietary fiber intake, and similarly, mineral and vitamin supplements can support overall intake of those nutrients. Because life happens and we want it to continue to happen in the healthiest way possible! So we have to assume that our best intentions will fall short every so often and make it easy for better health decisions to win out.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.