Are Supplements a Necessary Component of a Balanced Diet?

in addition to vitamins and supplements, consider the role of water for your overall health

By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

Is taking a multivitamin or supplement essential to our health? According to Professor Ormsbee, it depends. Here’s what you should keep in mind.

multivitamins and fruits on table
Researchers have found that people who take vitamins and supplements also tend to be people who eat a healthier diet. Photo by Lallapie/Shutterstock

Should You Take a Supplement?

Although eating a diet of more nutritious, colorful, and varied whole food sources is ideal, we need to be realistic. Given the prevalence of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, you may be wondering if you should take vitamin or mineral supplements.

Researchers have looked into supplement use within normal and obese individuals. Not surprisingly, many studies have found that people who take multivitamin and multimineral supplements had lower prevalence of inadequate vitamin and mineral intake.

In most cases, though, supplement users were actually more likely to have a healthy diet compared to non-users. It may be that the habit of using a multivitamin is more likely to be done by people who have other healthy habits. 

“But based on this information, and my own personal experience with clients, I would say that quite a few people would benefit from taking a multivitamin, or a multimineral supplement,” Professor Ormsbee said. “Many clients that I work with who believe they’re eating very well show up with deficiencies once I analyze their diets and look over their blood work.”

Deficiencies and Diet

However, supplementation will not fix a broken diet. Aim for a highly nutritious diet first, and then use supplements as the name implies—to supplement that diet. 

Also, the recommended intakes for vitamins and minerals were established to only prevent deficiencies. They don’t consider the achievement of optimal health or body composition. 

Do you want to be simply not deficient? Or do you want to be optimal in your micronutrient intake? These are the questions to consider when pondering the “should I supplement?” question. 

You may want to think about how many times you eat per day, what quality of food you generally eat, what medications you take, and how much exercise you normally do on a daily basis to determine if supplementation will help you. Then, discuss these factors and concerns with your doctor to decide what is right for you.

In the end, vitamins and minerals play a huge role in your overall health, how you feel, and what your body composition is or will become. Water is also essential for optimal health and body composition. 

Hydration and Health

You probably know that you need to hydrate, but many people walk around with less than adequate hydration levels. In fact, one study reported that over half of professional basketball players were under-hydrated before the game, and that’s in professional athletes. 

Water helps to transport all of the nutrients you consume and helps move metabolic waste products out of your body. Water also plays a huge part in the regulation of body temperature, particularly with exercise. 

The list goes on and on for water, so be sure you drink up and aim for about 8–10 cups, or 2 liters of water per day in addition to eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with water. It may make you get up more to use the bathroom, but that’s actually a really healthy side effect to drinking water regularly—more physical activity.

However, you can also drink too much water. This is called hyponatremia, which means low sodium—this can occur when you drink so much water that it actually dilutes, or literally waters down, the sodium in your body. 

This can cause nausea, vomiting, fatigue, neuromuscular issues like cramps and muscle spasms, and even sometimes events like coma or death. Another note is that if you exercise a lot, the fluid recommendations get much more detailed, so ask a professional if you feel like you need more specific information. 

Simply monitoring your urine color can help. Aim for a light yellow color—too clear or too dark a urine color should be avoided.

Overall, you should aim to consume more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, stay active, and take a multivitamin supplement. It is a balance that we are all striving for—optimal health, optimal nutrition, and optimal body composition. Additionally, practice drinking eight to 10 cups of water per day, and monitor your urine color.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

About Kate Findley 277 Articles
Kate is a writer, novelist, and blogger living in Los Angeles. She has been writing for The Great Courses since 2017. It incorporates her two favorite things: writing and learning.