December 20, 2011

Dietary Supplements – Navigating the Unknown

Kimberly Andreola, Dietetic Intern at Bay Pines Veterans Administration
Health Care System

Every day we are being bombarded by messages from the media telling us what foods and supplements we need to stay healthy. It may be a “new miracle cure for cancer” or that essential ingredient that we need to “fight infections and boost the immune system”. The information can be confusing and leave you with lots of unanswered questions. To help you sort out the confusion and find helpful resources on the topic, read on.

What is a supplement?
Supplements contain one or more dietary ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, herbs or botanicals and are found in many different forms (usually pill, capsule, tablet or liquid form).  Supplements are not foods and are not food replacements – they are intended to “supplement” a healthy diet.

Dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure disease.   In some cases, supplements can even interact with your normal prescription medications, decreasing or altering the desired effects and rendering your medications ineffective or unsafe.  For example, the herbal supplement St. John’s Wort can speed the breakdown of many drugs including birth control pills, and antidepressants thereby reducing the drugs’ effectiveness.

In addition to these interactions, supplements may negatively interact with each other or cause undesired effects if consumed in excess of what your body needs.  Many foods are fortified with extra nutrients these days.  Supplementation beyond what is required along with intake of a normal diet and consumption of fortified foods could be overloading your body on certain nutrients. 

Should I consider using a supplement?
If you consume a varied diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean proteins, you probably do not need to add supplements to your diet.  People who might consider supplementation include those who have been diagnosed with a deficiency disease or those for whom vitamin and mineral intake may be inadequate.  People at risk for inadequate intake of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, protein, or fat include: pregnant women, people who lack access to healthy foods, alcohol-dependent individuals, strict vegetarians and those with increased or altered nutritional needs related to a health condition (such as those people who have a medical condition that alters how their body absorbs or uses nutrients).

If you are currently using supplements or are considering adding one to your diet, discuss the following with your doctor or dietitian first:

  1. What are the potential health benefits of the product for me? What works for your best friend or family member, may not work for you and could even be harmful to your health. Eating a variety of nutritious foods is the best way to maintain health and prevent chronic disease.  
  2. How does this supplement fit into my total diet? If you don’t eat a nutritious variety of foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients.  Supplements cannot take the place of a varied diet, though.  
  3. Does this product have any safety risks? Always know your supplement and its risks, including interactions with medications, before adding it to your diet.  The National Institute of Health (NIH) provides fact sheets on many of the common supplements summarizing benefits and risks.  The Food and Drug Association (FDA) also posts reports of adverse events as they occur and makes recommendations for certain products.  
  4. What is the proper dose to take?  The FDA monitors supplements once they have been placed on the market.  It is the manufacturers’ responsibility to recommend serving sizes and doses based on research. Discuss your need for each supplement with your doctor to determine what dose may be appropriate for you.
  5. How, when, and for how long should I take it?  Each of these questions should be discussed with your doctor.  The answers will vary by individual and by supplement.  
  6. Does this product seem too good to be true?  More than likely the answer is yes. Read your label, research the product on the NIH and FDA websites and talk to your doctor before initiating any supplement regimen.

It is important to keep in mind that no supplement will replace the benefits of eating real food.  To decrease your risk of disease and stay healthy, your best bet is to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains as well as lean protein and low fat dairy foods.  If you find it difficult to consume everything your body needs or think you may need more of a certain nutrient for medical reasons, consult your doctor before purchasing and using a supplement.  Your doctor or dietitian can help you navigate the supplement aisles of the grocery store and determine what your individual needs might be. 


National Institute of Health.  Dietary supplements: What you need to know. (2011, June 17). 

Federal Trade Commission. (2011, November). Dietary supplements.  

USFDA. (2011, October 06). Dietary supplements.

ADA (2009). Position of the american dietetic association: Nutrient supplementation. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109, 2073-2085.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2011, November). St. john's wort. 

December 5, 2011

What is Community Supported Agriculture?

Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent

One of the ways that we can directly support local food production is through a membership in a local Community Supported Agriculture farm. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has gained recognition as a way to buy local. Consumers also have shown a desire to reconnect with the farmers who grow the crops. The CSA movement began in Japan and Europe and  was  introduced in the United States in 1986. Currently, there are approximately 1000 CSAs in the United States. Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire were the first CSAs in the United States, both beginning in 1986. 

CSA is a partnership between farmers and consumers. In conventional agriculture, the farmer bears all the risk of production, but CSA allows farmers to share farming’s risks—and its rewards—with consumers. CSA depends on  people who pledge their financial support to a farm. At the beginning of the growing season, members pay a fee to cover the cost of the farm’s operations and the farmer’s salary. In return, each member receives a weekly share of the farm’s produce—typically a box of fresh vegetables and herbs, though the box might also include fruit, honey, eggs, and even meat. For farmers, CSA offers a fair, steady source of income—and a way to continue the small family farm. Consumers get fresh, great-tasting produce by someone that is part of the local community. 

There are many reasons consumers join CSAs. One reason is that the consumer is able to get produce that has not been shipped. The produce is grown locally, reducing the price and damage of shipping. Since the produce is grown locally, the money paid for the produce is invested in locally owned and operated farms. Another reason to join a CSA is that a consumer is able to get items that are typically unavailable in the supermarket. Consumers join CSAs to support local farmers, have access to fresh, high quality produce, access to organic or pesticide-free produce, and to increase participation in community and environmental awareness programs. Not only can a CSA decrease costs for its members, it also gives consumers an inside view on the process of growing food.

Examples of Local CSA: (for informational purposes only) 

Gateway Organic Farm 
6000 150th Avenue North
Clearwater, FL

Sweetwater Organic Community Farm
Farm Office:  813-887-4066
Tampa, Fl

Geraldson Community Farm 
1401 99th St NW
Bradenton, FL 34209

Gamble Creek Farm
14950 Golf Course Rd 
Parrish, FL 34219