Getting Vitamins in Food: Is That Enough?

It’s possible to get all the vitamins you need from food, and vitamin deficiencies are no longer common. But many diets don’t provide all the needed vitamins. For example, people who eat less than five daily servings of fruits and vegetables may or whose diets are less than 1,200 calories not get all the vitamins they need. Some people are at higher risk for a deficiency. For example, pregnant or lactating women need more of most vitamins.



Older adults could be at risk for a deficiency because their bodies are less efficient at absorbing vitamins from food. People with chronic long-term diseases, such as HIV, may have special vitamin concerns because their medications can affect metabolic processes in the body. Adolescent girls need more of certain vitamins. If you fit into one of these groups, you might benefit from a vitamin supplement.

Who Needs Supplements?

Whether you need a vitamin supplement depends in part on your lifestyle. If you’re healthy and eat a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean meat, you probably are getting all your vitamins from food. If you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, you may need a supplement. If you’re a vegetarian, you may not get enough vitamins B12 and D. Cigarette smoking decreases the body’s absorption of vitamins C and folate. Heavy alcohol consumption interferes with vitamin absorption, and if alcohol is consumed in place of food, the risk of a vitamin deficiency increases.

Women and Vitamins

Women have special vitamin needs at certain stages of life. Women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant need more iron and folate. Folate, one of the B vitamins, is important during early pregnancy to help protect a baby from spinal cord defects, such as incomplete closure of the spine. This condition is known as spina bifida. Iron helps make red blood cells needed to deliver oxygen to a woman and her baby. Doctors may recommend a vitamin supplement. For women who have heavy menstrual bleeding, an iron supplement could be needed to replace the iron lost by blood loss. Postmenopausal women may need vitamin D supplements, if they don’t get enough from their food, to help absorb the calcium needed for their bones.

Medical Conditions and Vitamins

If your diet is limited by food allergies, such as an allergy to dairy products, you may need a supplement. People with diseases of the gallbladder, liver, intestines or pancreas may not be able to properly digest and absorb vitamins. Their doctors might suggest a vitamin supplement. Medications taken for certain chronic diseases, such as HIV, may create the need for a supplement. Older adults may need a supplement because they may not absorb vitamins as well as a younger person.

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