Remember when taking Flintstones vitamins was the highlight of your morning? If you’re like me, then you’ve graduated from “candy vitamins” to mega-sized pills and pat yourself on the back for sticking with such a healthy habit. Now I hate to burst your bubble, but it seems that your daily dose of goodness may not be so beneficial, after all.

For decades, studies showed that vitamin supplements could protect us from major illnesses. However, the tides have turned in recent years. Three studies published in a 2013 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that multivitamins were ineffective in preventing early death, heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline. The journal’s editors even issued this strongly worded statement titled, “Enough is enough: stop wasting money on vitamin and mineral supplements.”

If there’s any consensus at all about multivitamins, it’s this: vitamins, if taken, should never replace a healthy diet. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and healthy oils, and low in red meat and unhealthy fats should provide nearly all the nutrients we need, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Of course, if you’re human, you’re probably not eating kale and cauliflower by the fistful. And, there are other reasons why you may not be getting adequate nutrition. If you have a chronic condition or routinely avoid certain food groups, there’s a good chance you’re missing key nutrients.

Of course, if you’re human, you’re probably not eating kale and cauliflower by the fistful. And, there are other reasons why you may not be getting adequate nutrition.

You may also be part of a subgroup that’s known for having nutritional deficiencies. For example: If you’re a vegan, you’re probably lacking B-12. If you’re premenopausal, you may need to take some iron. Even the healthiest of eaters may be missing nutrients such as vitamin D (which is present in very few foods) and Omega-3s.

So, how can you determine if you need to take a multivitamin or a particular supplement? According to Dr. Veronica Waks, an N.D. (Naturopathic Doctor) based in Bridgeport, CT, the best way to identify any nutritional deficiencies in your body is by having your blood analyzed. She recommends talking to you doctor about any health concerns you’re having that keep you from functioning optimally, such as fatigue, anxiety, joint pain, or trouble falling asleep. Depending on your budget, insurance coverage, and symptoms, your doctor may order a comprehensive analysis that measures a variety of micronutrient levels in your blood or a specific test based on reported symptoms.

Don’t have a doctor or don’t want to go to one? Several companies, such as SpectraCell Laboratories, can provide macronutrient assessments of your blood with easy-to-read results directly to the consumer.

One last thing: If you do decide to take any vitamins or minerals, opt for “food-based” supplements (as opposed to synthetically produced ones). They can be found at health food stores and are labeled as such. Supplements extracted from real foods contain the complex interplay of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, enzymes, and trace elements that enable them to be better absorbed and more effectively used by the body. Science has not yet substantiated this claim, but if you tend to choose whole foods over artificially processed products, you’ll want to do the same for your supplements.

Angelika Schlanger, PhD, is a Yale-trained-researcher, Health Coach, blogger, food-system reformer, and mom to three healthy eaters (well, sometimes). She helps institutions, individuals, and families create a balanced wellness program that is tailored to their individual needs. Angelika enjoys concocting healthier versions of classic recipes, growing her own organic veggies, and taking long naps on the beach. Read her articles and tips at homehealthlove.com and follow her on Twitter @homehealthlove.

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