A Beginner's Guide to Taking Vitamins and Supplements

Vitamins and supplements on wooden spoons

Created by: Kroger Health Editors

In our increasingly health-minded world, more and more people are opting to take vitamins and supplements—so much so the supplement industry is expected to reach 220 billion in 2022. While research increasingly shows the value of supplementing, it can be a dizzying endeavor. 

With so many choices available, how do you know what’s right for you? And should you supplement? In this beginner’s guide to taking vitamins and supplements, we’ll explain why supplementing is a wise choice—and how you can get started.

Why Take Vitamins and Supplements?

Many of the nutrients you need to function optimally are found in a well-rounded diet, particularly one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and fortified foods. Even the most virtuous eaters, however, may have nutritional gaps that can result in low levels of key vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile, certain medical issues—as well as certain medications—can place people at risk for vitamin deficiencies. Additionally, older people may have difficulty absorbing specific vitamins, such as B12.

This is where vitamins and supplements come in. Operating as “a great insurance policy against developing nutrient deficiencies,” they can “benefit immunity, mood, muscular function, and mental acuity,” says Clinical Dietician Jordan Jennewine, MS, RDN, LD, CSSD, of Kroger Health. What’s more, “Vitamins and minerals are involved in everything from growth to nervous system function, so consuming the Recommended Daily intake is very important in maintaining health,” Jennewine reports.

Effectively supplementing, however, requires a few steps—and essential knowledge:

1. Talk to Your Health Care Professional Before Taking Supplements

“It is important to consult a doctor before beginning a supplement routine to avoid the risk of medication interactions and overconsuming certain nutrients,” Jennewine says. To this end, be sure to come equipped with your list of medications, medical conditions, symptoms, and any issues you’d like to address. Further, to ensure you actually need a particular supplement, request a blood test to assess your levels. Lastly, discuss possible side effects with your doctor.

2. Choose a Foundational Multivitamin That's Right for You

A foundational multivitamin serves as daily assurance that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need for health and vitality. While they should not be used at the exclusion of a healthy lifestyle—one that includes a wholesome diet, maintaining your ideal weight, and getting adequate exercise—they’ve been linked to a wealth of benefits, including reductions in cancer and cataracts, Harvard Health reports. But how to choose one?

“A good multivitamin for the general population is a broad-spectrum product which meets around 100% of the Daily Value (DV) of a range of vitamins and minerals,” says Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD, of Kroger Health. “Men and women have some different vitamin and mineral needs, particularly comparing pregnant or lactating women to men.” For example, adult women 50 and younger require more iron than men, while adult men need more Vitamin A than women. To reiterate the point above, “Speak with your doctor,” Hembree advises.

3. Consider Additional Supplements According to Your Needs

Every human is unique, which is why you should also consider supplements based on your specific needs. “Depending on food choices, medical conditions, and life stage, different people may benefit from supplementing particular nutrients,” Jennewine says. Women of childbearing age, for example, may profit from supplementing with folic acid, while a B12 supplement may benefit those following a vegan or vegetarian diet. 

4. Ensure Quality 

Not all vitamins and supplements are created equal. By and large, you should go with a reputable brand that’s GMP certified; this ensures that the product was made according to the current FDA good manufacturing practices. 

Likewise, be cautious with “proprietary blends,” as the manufacturer does not have to list the amounts or ratios of particular ingredients. In addition, be weary of wild claims that a supplement can cure or prevent any condition, as those are not permitted by the FDA and it’s likely too good to be true.

Finally, follow your health care professional’s advice on when to take the supplement—and how much. 

Are vitamins and supplements a good fit for you? After discussing with your doctor, be sure to shop the Health & Wellness page for top supplements from trusted manufacturers.

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