Walking down the vitamin aisle of your local grocery or drug store can be daunting. With so many different types of vitamins out there, it’s hard to know which ones could help you and your loved ones achieve health and wellness goals.
“In a perfect world, all your vitamins and minerals would come from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fortified food,” says Rebecca Moran, MD, family medicine physician at Banner Health Clinic. “But realistically, there are certain situations when extra vitamins or minerals are recommended.”
Here’s a quick guide on what vitamins you need to take at every age.
Although breast milk is the ideal food for newborns, it doesn’t contain enough of the crucial nutrients, like vitamin D and iron. Dr. Moran recommends babies who are exclusively breastfed should receive 400 IU of vitamin D starting within the first few days of life. This should continue until they are weaned to at least one quart of whole milk per day. “But remember that whole milk shouldn’t be used until after one year old,” Dr. Moran says.
For formula-fed babies, Dr. Moran says most formulas in the U.S. are fortified with vitamin D, so babies who drink at least 32 ounces of baby formula per day don’t need supplementation.
Iron is necessary for healthy blood cells and brain development. Babies need the mineral to prevent the effects of iron deficiency. including anemia. Breastfed or partially breastfed babies should start an iron supplement of roughly 1mg/kg per day of a liquid form at four months old. Formula fed babies don’t need an iron supplement as long as the formula is fortified with iron.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans don’t recommend supplements over and above the recommended dietary allowances for healthy children older than age one who eat a balanced diet. However, Dr. Moran says there are specific circumstances, such a vegetarian/vegan diet or certain medical conditions, where supplements may be necessary. Check with your child’s pediatrician or medical provider to see if a supplement is necessary.
In your 20s and 30s
“In the U.S., a regular, well-balanced diet should provide all the necessary vitamins you need for both men and women who are healthy,” Dr. Moran says. “That said, your doctor can help evaluate where you may be deficient and recommend extra minerals and vitamins.”
Pregnant or nursing
Women should take a prenatal vitamin about three months prior to conception and continue until they are finished nursing. Make sure the multivitamin includes folic acid, as this has been shown to reduce neural defects in a fetus.
Women are at an increased risk for iron-deficient anemia due to menstruation, especially if their menses is consistently heavy. These women may need to take an iron supplement if they don’t get adequate iron in their diets.
Vegan or paleo
For those who follow plant-based diets, vitamin B12 is a good choice as it is most commonly found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk.
Older adults (55+)
If you maintain a regular, well-balanced diet, including vitamin-D-fortified foods, you shouldn’t need vitamins. More research is showing that vitamin D and calcium are essential for bone health, but these are best found through diet and lifestyle versus supplements.
Although there is no specific vitamin supplementation recommended for healthy adults, Dr. Moran says most multivitamins are likely safe to take. She does caution against high dose vitamin supplementation and recommends you speak with your primary care doctor.
Patients who have had gastric bypass or who have pernicious anemia should take a B12 supplement as this is not well absorbed by the GI tract of these patients.
If your doctor has indicated you are iron deficient, an iron supplement is recommended.
Eat healthy, exercise and optimize your intake of calcium and vitamin D.
At any age, if you are a heavy drinker, you can develop deficiencies in vitamins B1 and B6 and folate.
Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet is key to good health. Dr. Moran says to speak with your medical provider before you start or stop taking any supplements. There are some medical conditions where your doctor may have a specific recommendation.
To find a Banner Health physician, visit bannerhealth.com.