QI don’t really eat such a balanced/healthy vegan diet, but I do take supplements every day. Is that fine? I take a multivitamin, vitamin C, D, iron + B12, and magnesium. Sincerely, SW

Dear SW,

Nothing can replace a balanced diet. If you aren’t eating well, supplementing with various vitamins and minerals is not a terrible thing to do; however, I would rather you evaluate what is keeping you from eating well in the first place. Basic food preferences? Poor planning of meals? Time management issues? Eating ‘real food’ is ideal over supplements because food has so many nutrients, like phytochemicals & fiber, which you will be missing due to your supplement dependency. Not eating a balanced diet is typically indicative of a diet rich in sugar, fat & salt, none of which we need in excess and can lead to chronic disease development.

I am glad to see that you are taking Vitamin B12, which is definitely the exception in the case of whether to supplement or not. All vegans should take a supplement form of this nutrient or consume a few daily servings of fortified foods. Vitamin D supplement could be needed if you live in a crummy climate like Cleveland (as I do) and are not receiving adequate sunlight throughout the year. And there is some discussion that vegans should be supplementing with DHA, which is a form of omega 3 fatty acid obtained through microalgae and assists in brain and cardiovascular health. Research has shown vegans have “low normal” levels compared to omnivores, so there may be something to that – more investigation is needed.

Keeping supplements at low level doses is likely not harmful; however, there is always the risk of overdoing it. Iron is a mineral that could accumulate rapidly in some individuals who are supplementing, so I typically do not recommend its use unless lab work has been conducted to indicate a deficiency and normalizing your blood levels is not being reached via dietary modifications.

I think your overall goal should be to incorporate a variety of whole foods into your everyday diet so that you don’t need to depend on supplements, minus the ones I mentioned above, to ensure your nutritional status. Plus, eating good food trumps popping vitamin and mineral pills any day.

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