People often ask me about the dietary supplements I take and which ones I give to my children. As a registered dietitian, food comes first with me, and I work hard to eat a balanced diet and encourage my kids do the same. Food packs hundreds of beneficial compounds considered necessary for energy and wellness, such as protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals.

That said, nobody eats an exemplary diet every day, including my family. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they’re no different from the millions of other adults and children that regularly miss out on important vitamins and minerals. Because they are still growing, I want to make sure my children don’t have any dietary gaps for the nutrients they need to develop properly. That’s why they take a daily chewable multivitamin with no more than 100% of the Daily Value for the vitamins and minerals it provides.

As for my husband and myself, I operate on the principle that depending on your health goals, age, and stage of life, you may need more of certain vitamins and minerals than you can get from food alone. That’s why we both take a daily multivitamin.

The multivitamin I take insures that I get enough folic acid and iron I need; these nutrients are identified by the DGA as “nutrients of concern” in women of childbearing age. His pill provides very little iron because a man’s needs are much lower than a woman in her childbearing years, and can, generally speaking, be satisfied with diet.

Vitamin B12 has been flagged by the DGA in adults over the age of 50 because they are not able to absorb as much naturally-occurring vitamin B12 from foods as their younger counterparts. People over the age of 50, like my husband, should get the bulk of their vitamin B12 from dietary supplements or fortified foods.

The entire family takes vitamin D on a daily basis. Vitamin D helps the body absorb and use calcium, but it’s difficult to get the vitamin D you need without dietary supplements. For one thing, few foods provide vitamin D. For another, when you live in the northern part of the country, like we do, you don’t make any vitamin D in response to sunlight for about half the year. While my children drink the recommended three glasses of vitamin D-fortified milk daily, that only amounts to 300 International Units (IU) of vitamin D and the suggested amount is 600 IU daily. A vitamin D supplement fills in the gap between what they get from food and what they should be consuming.

Dietary supplements are just that – supplements – and not substitutes for health eating. For example, they can’t provide the energy, fluid, or fiber you need to support good health. But they are useful for shoring up diets that provide less than the recommended levels for nutrients that affect your well-being, and your family’s.