Take the Quiz: Do You Need to Supplement?

Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.03/17/17

You probably don’t eat as well as you think. While most people say they eat pretty well, most are mistaken. (1-3,7)  A survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that 99 out of every 100 of us don’t meet even minimum standards of a good diet. (4)

Nutrition through diet or through supplements is not an either-or issue. You don’t always get optimal amounts of all the essential nutrients from food, just as pills don’t contain everything food has to offer. That’s why they are called “supplements” not “substitutes.” A good supplement plan can fill in the gaps when you don’t eat perfectly. (43) Of course, you can’t live on doughnuts and fast food, then take a supplement and think you’re doing fine.  You need to eat well AND supplement responsibly. (5)

For quality sake, choose major brands or a product with the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) quality seal that guarantees high standards. (6)  Avoid the unsubstantiated claims of  "therapeutic," "high-potency," “women’s formulas” or "stress-formulated" supplements. Those terms are not guaranteed to deliver a better-formulated product and typically cost more.

Take the Quiz: Do You Need a Supplement?

Are you in a quandary about whether or not to take a supplement? Here’s a quick test to assess what nutrients might be low in your diet.

Enter Yes/No for each question.

Do you consume every day:


If “no,” your diet may be low in:

_____1. At least 1 citrus fruit?

Vitamin C and possibly folic acid

_____2. At least 2 dark-green leafy vegetables?

Folic acid, vitamins C and K, iron, calcium, beta carotene

_____3. 5-9 servings of colorful fruits/vegetables?

B vitamins, trace minerals, vitamins A and C

_____4. At least 3 servings of milk, fortified soymilk or yogurt?

Calcium, vitamin D and possibly vitamins B2 and B12, magnesium, zinc

_____5. At least 2 servings of extra-lean meat or legumes?

Iron, zinc, B vitamins

_____6. 1 serving of fatty fish?

The omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA

_____7. At least 6 servings of whole grains?

Trace minerals, such as chromium, selenium, magnesium and copper and B vitamins

_____8. Several servings of nuts, seeds, avocados and olives?

Vitamin E, trace minerals, B vitamins



1.  1994 Gallup Study of Vitamin Usage/ Subar A, Block G: Use of vitamin and mineral supplements: Demographics and amounts of nutrients consumed. American Journal of Epidemiology 1990;132:1091-1101.

2. Council on Scientific Affairs: Vitamin preparations as dietary supplements and as therapeutic agents. Journal of the American Medical Association 1987;257:1929-1936.

3. Imamura F, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, et al: Dietary quality among men and women in 187 countries in 1990 and 2010. Lancet Global Health 2015;3:e132-e142.

4. Krebs-Smith S, Cleveland L, Ballard-Barbash R, et al: Characterizing food intake patterns of American adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1997;65:1264-1268.

5. West K, Shamim A, Mehra S, et al: Effect of maternal multiple micronutrient vs iron-folic acid supplementation on infant mortality and adverse birth outcomes in rural Bangladesh. Journal of the American Medical Association 2014;312:2649-2658.

6. LeBlanc E, Perrin N, Johnson J, et al: Over the counter and compounded vitamin D: Is potency what we expect? Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine 2013;February 11th: 1-2.

7. Most people think they eat pretty well: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/03/487640479/75-percent-of-americans-say-they-eat-healthy-despite-evidence-to-the-contrary or http://www.livescience.com/10389-big-fat-disconnect-90-diets-healthy.html.


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