The Ground Rules
Unless otherwise noted, all the nutrients on this list should be taken in a daily multivitamin with a meal. A multivitamin saves you money compared with buying dozens of individual bottles, and the nutrients will work better as a team. Also, recommended amounts are for adult women, not men or children (we specify if doses are different for pregnant, breastfeeding, or menopausal women). Take this guide with you when discussing supplements with your doctor or when shopping. And remember, vitamins can’t replace a healthy diet, but they can help compensate for what you’re missing—and give you peace of mind as well.
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Do You Need It? May control hot flashes during menopause.
How Much? 40 mg of extract per day. Possible side effects include stomach discomfort and headaches. Should not be taken by women who might be pregnant or who have breast cancer.
Look For: 1 mg of 27-deoxyactein (also called triterpene glycoside).
Do You Need It? May help to prevent and treat arthritis, including joint stiffness and pain.
How Much? 500 mg three times a day. Expect to take it for 2 months before noticing improvement (stop taking it after 4 months if your symptoms haven’t changed). Stick with reputable brands that have a strong presence in your health food store.
Look For: Glucosamine, glucosamine sulfate, or glucosaminehydrochloride.
Do You Need It? Might lessen severity of colds and infections.
How Much? 1 g dried root or herb used to make tea (take three times a day) or two 500-mg tablets three times a day. For tincture, follow manufacturer’s directions.
Look For: Brands that have a big presence in your health food store. People with allergies might experience a reaction to this herb. Should not be taken by women with autoimmune diseases or liver problems.
Do You Need It? May lesson severity of nausea and vomiting, motion sickness, morning sickness during pregnancy, and possibly chemotherapy-induced nausea.
How Much? One or two 500-mg capsules of powdered ginger every 4 hours as needed. Should not be taken after surgery because ginger can prolong bleeding time.
Food Source: A 1-inch-square piece of peeled fresh ginger contains the equivalent of 500 mg.
Do You Need It? Promotes immunity, boosts metabolism, and improves thinking, memory, and concentration. Possibly reduces the risk of many cancers and may help control blood sugar in people with diabetes.
How Much? 1 to 2 g dried root powder daily or 200 mg of a standardized extract taken as 100 mg twice daily. Stick with reputable brands with a strong presence in your health food store and products that are standardized to 4% ginsenosides. Take for no longer than 3 months. Do not take if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Look For: Asian or Panax ginseng root, also known as Chinese or Korean ginseng root.
Do You Need It? May lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
How Much? 5 to 15 mg.
Look For: Capsules or tablets of lycopene.
Food Sources: Tomatoes and tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava.
Do You Need It? Aids in energy production and immunity. Might help prevent cancer and treat congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy (inflammation of the heart muscle). Limited evidence suggests a possible role in the treatment of migraines and several muscle-weakness disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and the muscle-coordination problem ataxia.
How Much? 30 to 60 mg; see a physician before taking higher doses.
Look For: Softgels, which might improve absorption compared with tablets or capsules.
Food Source: Meat, fish, and chicken. Small amounts in vegetables, fruit, and milk.
Why You Need It: Strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Might lower risk of colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. May protect vision and curb PMS symptoms.
How Much? Ages 19 to 50 and pregnant or breastfeeding, 200 IU; 51 to 70, 400 IU; over 70, 600 to 800 IU.
Look For: Vitamin D or cholecalciferol.
Food Sources: Milk, juice, soy milk, and cereals (fortified only); salmon; sardines; and egg yolks
Why You Need It: It’s an antioxidant. Counteracts DNA damage that ages cells. May help prevent heart disease, cancer, memory loss, and cataracts. Boosts immunity.
How Much? 30 IU. Doses up to 400 IU are safe and possibly beneficial.
Look For: D-alpha tocopheryl (“natural” vitamin E), which is better utilized than synthetic dl-alpha tocopheryl.
Food Sources: Wheat germ, safflower oil, most nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts), and spinach.
Why You Need It: Aids blood clotting, boosts bones, and may curb heart disease risk.
How Much? 90 mcg.
Look For: Vitamin K, vitamin K1, or phylloquinone.
Food Sources: Leafy greens.
Why You Need It: Supports normal cell growth and prevents anemia and birth defects. May reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, preterm delivery, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and cancer.
How Much? 400 mcg. Pregnant women need 600 mcg; breastfeeding mothers, 500 mcg. Take no more than 1,000 mcg without physician approval.
Look For: Folic acid.
Food Source: Leafy greens, orange juice, wheat germ, cooked dried beans, and fortified grains
Why You Need It: Helps produce hormones and brain chemicals. Strengthens immunity. Might lower risk of memory loss, heart disease, depression, and morning sickness during pregnancy.
How Much? 2 mg.
Look For: Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine hydrochloride.
Food Sources: Chicken, fish, extralean red meat, avocados, potatoes, bananas, whole grains, cooked dried beans, nuts, and seeds.
Why You Need It: Helps prevent heart disease, memory loss, anemia, and depression. Maintains nerve and brain function.
How Much? 2.4 mcg; pregnant, 2.6 mcg; breastfeeding, 2.8 mcg.
Look For: Vitamin B12, cyanocobalamin, or cobalamin.
Food Sources: Extralean red meat, poultry, shellfish, eggs, milk, and soy milk.
Why You Need It: Reduces the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and possibly colon cancer. Aids in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. Might reduce symptoms of PMS and help weight loss. May need to take as a separate supplement.
How Much? Ages 19 to 50 and pregnant or breastfeeding, 1,000 mg; over 50, 1,200 mg.
Look For: Most forms of calcium are well absorbed. Avoid “natural” calcium from oyster shell, bonemeal, or dolomite, which may contain lead.
Food Sources: Low-fat milk products, juice and soy milk (fortified only), sardines, tofu, leafy greens, and dried beans and peas.
Why You Need It: Regulates blood sugar and may help lower blood sugar levels in those who are insulin resistant.
How Much? Ages 19 to 50, 25 mcg; pregnant, 30 mcg; breastfeeding, 45 mcg; over 50, 20 mcg.
Look For: Chromium nicotinate, chromium-rich yeast, or chromium picolinate, which are better absorbed than chromium chloride.
Food Sources: Whole grains, wheat germ, orange juice, chicken, and oysters.
Why You Need It: Aids in nerve transmission, red blood cell formation, maintenance of strong bones, and brain, heart, and immune function. Regulates blood sugar and protects against birth defects.
How Much? 2 mg.
Look For: Copper gluconate or copper sulfate.
Food Sources: Shellfish, organ meats, grains, nuts, seeds, soybeans, and leafy greens
Why You Need It: Prevents fatigue, improves exercise performance, strengthens immunity, and maintains alertness and memory.
How Much? Ages 19 to 50, 18 mg; pregnant, 27 mg; menopausal, no more than 8 mg.
Look For: Best absorbed as ferrous fumarate or ferrous sulfate.
Food Sources: Extralean red meat, fish, poultry, cooked dried beans and peas, dried apricots, leafy greens, raisins, whole grains, and fortified cereal.
Why You Need It: Aids in muscle contraction, nerve transmission, blood pressure regulation, immune function, and bone formation. Might lower risk of heart disease and diabetes. Helps control hypertension, headaches, and preeclampsia during pregnancy. May need to take separately.
How Much? 400 mg.
Look For: Magnesium oxide, carbonate, or hydroxide.
Food Sources: Low-fat milk, peanuts, avocados, bananas, wheat germ, whole grains, cooked dried beans and peas, leafy greens, and oysters.
Why You Need It: Lowers risk of heart disease, memory loss, bone loss, and osteoporosis. Reduces symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. May boost mood. Must take separately, not in a multivitamin.
How Much? 1 g. Women with high triglycerides should get 2 to 4 g along with a physician’s care.
Look For: Omega-3s as a mixture of EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). Best source: fish-oil supplements.
Food Sources: Fish, walnuts, and flaxseed.
Why You Need It: It’s an antioxidant. May lower risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain forms of cancer.
How Much? 55 mcg; pregnant, 60 mcg; breastfeeding, 70 mcg. Doses greater than 400 mcg can be toxic.
Look For: Selenomethionine and selenium-rich yeast.
Food Sources: Whole grains, nuts, seafood, and lean meat.
Why You Need It: Speeds healing, boosts immunity, prevents pregnancy complications, and helps maintain strong bones and normal taste and smell.
How Much? 8 mg; pregnant, 11 mg; breast-feeding, 12 mg. Limit intake to less than 40 mg per day.
Look For: Zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, zinc oxide, or zinc sulfate.
Food Sources: Oysters, extralean red meat, turkey, nuts, cooked dried beans and peas, wheat germ, and whole grains.
Supplements 1, 2, 3
Think taking supplements is complicated? It doesn’t have to be. Follow these simple guidelines and you can be confident that your nutritional needs are covered.
- Take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral supplement that supplies approximately 100% of the daily value for a wide range of nutrients.
- If you don’t consume at least three servings of calcium-rich foods daily (such as fat-free milk and yogurt) and lots of magnesium-rich whole grains, wheat germ, soy products, and legumes, consider supplementing your multi with extra calcium and magnesium. (You may also want to supplement with omega-3 fats if your diet is not rich in fish.)
- You might want to customize this basic program with a few other supplements to meet your personal needs, such as black cohosh if you’re battling menopause symptoms or glucosamine for arthritis.