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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Additives and Supplements

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Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet

Tammy Kliethermes, Missouri Department of Health, Dietetic Intern & Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., Former Nutritional Sciences Specialist, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri


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 the sole item of a meal or diet.


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 guide pyramid;
    (Refer to
  • 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 contact:

International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements database

NIH Facts About Dietary Supplements




Last update: Wednesday, June 24, 2009


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