HEALTHY LIVING

Vitamins, Family Style: What To Take And When

10/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

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One multi doesn't fit all; here's how to make sure you get what you need.

You probably have no interest in wearing your daughter's up-to-here skirt or your son's down-to-there baggy jeans. Well, fashion isn't the only area in which a "do" for one family member can be a "don't" for another -- you, your husband, your kids, and your parents all have surprisingly different requirements when it comes to nutrition, says Connie Weaver, PhD, head of the nutrition department at Purdue University.

In fact, one may need a supplement that another should avoid. Because one size doesn't fit all, here's a guide to the shortfalls that occur at different ages -- and the best ways to fill them for young, old, and in-between.

Your Preteen or Teen Needs:

Calcium
Why? "You get one chance in your lifetime to build a strong skeleton -- and that time is adolescence," says Roberta Anding, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. But kids typically get far less than the daily 1,300 mg of calcium they need.

Food Or Supplements? Food. Dietary calcium helps teens gain more bone mass than supplements do because it's easier to absorb, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago-based RD.

Try This: "Teens often skip milk in favor of soda and juice, so limit sugary drinks to one a day," says Malena Perdomo, RD. Serve milk at every meal or stock up on calcium-rich snacks like low-fat yogurt or string cheese.

Iron
Why? The nutrient is essential: Kids with a deficiency are 2 ½ times more likely to have low math scores. Girls, who lose iron during their periods, need 15 mg daily; boys need 11 mg.

Food Or Supplements? Food. Never dispense iron pills without your doctor's okay -- high doses can be toxic.

Try This: Give your teen a morning boost with fortified breakfast cereals; most pack 4 to 8 mg of iron per serving. To help absorption, pair high-iron foods with ones rich in vitamin C, such as black beans (a great vegetarian source of the mineral) and bell peppers.

You and Your Husband Need:

To Rethink Folic Acid
Why? This vitamin seems like such a do-gooder: It helps prevent birth defects, and studies suggest that it could help adults lower heart disease risk. But recently, researchers raised the possibility that excess folic acid may increase the danger of colon cancer. Answers aren't in, but some experts say that only women of childbearing age should take 400 mcg daily -- the amount in most multivitamins. Other healthy adults should pick one with lower amounts.

Food Or Supplements? Food. It's still important to get folate (the natural form of folic acid) in your diet.

Try This: Put beans and dark green veggies high on your shopping list: One cup of cooked lentils contains nearly 100% of your day's folate requirement.

Vitamin D
Why: Increasing numbers of studies suggest that it can reduce your risk of several cancers by 30 to 50% and lower your risk of death from any cause. Yet up to 74% of Americans don't have optimal blood levels of the vitamin.

Food Or Supplements? Supplements. Your body produces D from sunshine, but if you live in the northern United States, the sun isn't strong enough in the winter for you to synthesize adequate amounts. Vitamin D is found naturally in few foods.

Try This: Take up to 1,000 IU per day and look for D3 -- the kind skin makes from sunlight.

Your Parents Need:

Vitamin B12

Why? B vitamins promote a healthy immune system and may keep memory sharp. But up to 40% of older adults suffer from a B12 deficiency, found a study from New York Medical College.

Food Or Supplements? Both. Synthetic B12 in supplements and fortified food is easier to absorb.

Try This: People over age 50 should get 2.4 mcg of B12 daily in a supplement or eat at least one serving of fortified foods, the Institute of Medicine reports. If your parents take antacids or medications for ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), they'll need to tack on an extra 100 to 400 mcg a day in supplement form.

Calcium + Vitamin D
Why? Many people think osteoporosis is a woman's disease, but 2 million men have it, too. Your parents should aim for 1,200 mg of calcium daily, coupled with up to 1,000 IU of vitamin D for absorption.

Food Or Supplements? Both. Unlike teens, who metabolize dietary calcium more efficiently and probably do more bone-building exercise, older people are better off getting some of their calcium in a pill, Perdomo says.

Try This: For maximum absorption, your parents should choose a supplement with calcium citrate on the label and take separate doses of 500 mg or less at a time with food.

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