- Ask a Devoted Doctor: Nutrition
Ask a Devoted Doctor: Nutrition
Get answers to common questions about supplements, nutritional drinks, and breakfast cereals!
In this series, Dr. Lindsay Carter answers your questions on a range of topics. Send us your questions so Dr. Carter can answer and help the whole community!
The information provided doesn’t replace medical advice from your doctor.
Q: Do I need to take a supplement?
A: I get this question a lot! The short answer is… it depends.
Supplements help give us added vitamins and minerals (called micronutrients) that our bodies need. If you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you may not need a supplement at all.
There are 2 main reasons to consider taking a supplement:
- If you’re not getting enough nutrients from your diet or you’re not eating enough
- If you need extra nutrients because of a medical condition
As we age, we may not get enough nutrients through our diet. Why?
- We may eat less overall since our bodies don’t need as much energy
- It may be harder to prepare a variety of foods
- You may eat a special diet that doesn’t get you all the nutrients you need
- You might have a medical condition that makes it harder to eat — like issues with swallowing or dementia
If this is true for you, a multivitamin may help. Look for multivitamins that are made for older adults. These have higher amounts of the nutrients that are important to keep you healthy as you age. For example, vitamin B12 is often low in older adults, but it plays an important role in brain health.
Note: One clue that you might not be eating enough is if you are losing weight without trying to. Always talk to your doctor about this type of weight loss as it can mean many things and is important to get checked out.
Calcium and Vitamin D for Bone Health
As we age, our bones get thinner. People with osteopenia and osteoporosis may need extra calcium and vitamin D to keep their bones strong and prevent injury. Learn more about calcium and vitamin D.
Tip: Talk with a pharmacist or your doctor to make sure you get the right type and amount of calcium — be sure to look for “elemental calcium,” not calcium carbonate.
Fish Oil for Heart Health
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil. They can help lower blood pressure and triglycerides (fats that at high levels can hurt your heart). If you have heart disease, talk to your doctor about taking a fish oil supplement, including how much to take each day.
I hope these tips help you better understand supplements. Remember to talk to your care team about which supplements may be right for you.
And remember that you can use your plan’s Over-the-Counter (OTC) benefit to buy many common supplements — check the Vitamins & Minerals section of your OTC catalog!
Q: What should I look for in a nutritional drink?
A: The best nutritional drink for you depends on why you’re drinking it! Some people try nutritional drinks to:
- Gain or maintain weight — usually called nutrition drinks that are added to meals
- Lose weight — usually called protein shakes that replace a meal
Nutrition Drinks for Weight Gain
These have calories to help you gain weight and protein to help you build muscle. Typical nutrition drinks have 300 to 400 calories and 15 grams of protein per serving.
These drinks can be higher in sugar, so look for lower-sugar options — especially if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Protein Shakes for Weight Loss
These shakes can help you lose weight because they have the same amount of protein but fewer calories than a typical meal. So if you replace a meal with a protein shake, you’ll eat fewer calories but feel full because of the protein.
Typical protein shakes have about 20 to 30 grams of protein and less than 5 grams of sugar per serving.
Tip: If you’re sensitive to dairy, look for protein shakes that are made from non-dairy protein, like pea or hemp. Most protein shakes are made from a dairy protein called whey.
Q: What cereals are good for me if I have diabetes?
A: Great question! The short answer is: choose breakfast cereals with more fiber and less sugar.
Why? Cereals are high in carbohydrates (also called carbs), a type of nutrient that your body uses for energy. We all need carbs, but not all carbs are created equal!
There are 2 main categories of carbs:
- Simple carbs come from sugar — found in soda, cookies, cake, some cereals, and fruits. Because they break down quickly in your body, they can cause big spikes and dips in your blood sugar.
- Complex carbs come from starch and fiber — like from veggies (peas, corn, potatoes), grains (rice, oats, wheat), beans, and nuts. They take longer for your body to break down and can leave you full for longer, so they may help your blood sugar stay more stable.
With diabetes, our bodies have more trouble managing the sugar in our blood, so it’s even more important to pick the right cereals!
Look for cereals with:
- Low total sugar — less than 10 grams per serving (less than 5 grams is even better!)
- High dietary fiber — 5 grams or more per serving
- Ingredients like oats, shredded wheat, or bran flakes (without raisins)
- Sugar not listed in the first 5 ingredients (remember that sugar can have other names too, like corn syrup, dextrose, or fructose)
Tip: Make your own oatmeal by cooking whole rolled oats and adding fruit like blueberries, strawberries, or dried apricots.