Brittany Fowler

Q: I was reading the label for the daily multivitamin I take every morning, and next to almost every vitamin on the label it said "100% Daily Value."

If I receive that value for most of the vitamins and minerals my body needs by taking my multi-vitamin, then is it necessary to meet the USDA’s recommendations for fruits and vegetables?

— Debra, Moline

A: Over the past several years, Americans have begun to rely more and more on dietary supplements to achieve optimal health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, the use of dietary supplements has increased among U.S. adults from about 40 percent to over 50 percent between 1994 and 2006.

However, recent research suggests that although dietary supplements may contribute key nutrients, receiving these nutrients from whole foods versus dietary supplements may be more beneficial to health.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends meeting daily nutritional needs primarily through food. Whole foods provide a variety of nutrients that are thought to have beneficial effects to health.

Nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, not only contain most of the same vitamins and minerals found in dietary supplements, but they also contain other naturally occurring substances that may have beneficial effects on health.

For instance, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains contain vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fiber, which provides many health benefits such as reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases, promoting a healthy digestive system, improving blood sugar control in people with diabetes and improving cholesterol.

Fruits and vegetables also contain naturally-occurring substances called phytochemicals, which may be protective against cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Although most Americans should be able to meet the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) with food alone, there may be certain cases in which dietary supplements may be necessary in order to provide nutrients that may otherwise be lacking in the diet.

For instance, women who are or who may become pregnant may be advised by their doctors to take an iron and/or folate supplement. Also, Americans aged 50 years and older may be advised by their doctors to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or take a vitamin B12 supplement. 

When taking dietary supplements, it is important to be aware that high doses of certain nutrient supplements may be harmful. Certain combinations of medications and dietary supplements may cause interactions if taken together. Discuss your medications and dietary supplements with your doctor.

Although dietary supplements may be beneficial and necessary in certain cases, they should not be used as a replacement for a healthful diet. A healthful eating pattern consisting of a variety of nutrient-dense foods as well as regular physical activity are both keys to achieving and maintaining optimal health.