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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Additives and Supplements


Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet

Tammy Kliethermes, former Dietetic Intern, Missouri Department of Health, & Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., former Nutritional Sciences Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


What is a dietary supplement?

  • Any product intended to supplement the diet, which contains at least one of these ingredients: vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, metabolites or combinations of these ingredients.
  • Usually taken in pill, capsule, tablet or liquid form.
  • Labeled as “dietary supplement.” Not for use as a meal replacement.


Do I need a dietary supplement?

If any of the below apply to you, ask your physician or registered dietitian about taking a supplement:

  • your busy lifestyle keeps you from eating the recommended number of servings from the food groups (Refer to MyPlate);
  • you are on a very low-calorie weight loss diet (1200 calories daily);
  • you are elderly and not eating as much as you should;
  • you are a strict vegetarian;
  • you can't drink milk or eat cheese and yogurt;
  • you are a woman of childbearing age who doesn't eat enough fruits, vegetables, beans and grains;
  • you are pregnant or lactating.


How are dietary supplements regulated?

Loosely. Under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA):

  • Marketers are responsible for making sure that their product is safe, and any claims about their products are true.
  • All ingredients must be listed on the label.
  • Dietary supplements are not regulated for safety or effectiveness before going to market, and do not need Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval prior to sale.
  • FDA monitors safety after the product has been marketed; to file a complaint about a dietary supplement, go to


Bottom Line:

  • Get nutrients from foods first. Foods contain many helpful compounds that are not present in supplements. Besides, who wants to swallow a pill when you can eat delicious, nutritious foods?
  • Because dietary supplements are not tested for safety and effectiveness before going to market, some may not contain the ingredients stated on the label.


For more information:

International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements database:

NIH Facts About Dietary Supplements:


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Last update: Friday, October 03, 2014