I recently made an early morning Target run to pick up cleaning supplies. I was surprised to see a huge middle-aisle display for vitamins and supplements after the New Year’s holiday, when we tend resolve to eat “better” or stay healthy during cold and flu season.

As a parent (and let’s be realistic, as a woman), marketers target me repeatedly with online ads for dietary supplements promising to help me sleep better, rev up my metabolism and immune system, improve my gut health, grow stronger hair and nails, and (if only this were true!) reduce my stress.

These “miracle” products aren’t just designed for adults. You can find similar vitamins and supplements in the baby and pet aisles. (Because sometimes we want our kids and dogs to CHILL OUT already!)

I’m not judging anyone who takes these supplements. I know I’m tempted, especially when I’m feeling burned out, stressed or low-grade sick.

But in reality, there isn’t valid research to back up the health claims of dietary supplement marketers.

Plus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have the authority to approve dietary supplements for safety before they reach consumers. It’s truly a buyer-beware situation.

Unfortunately, I find that, in my circle of friends, the same people who buy a lot of different supplements also tend to worry that there’s something “toxic” or “wrong” with their food or diet.

However, I want to assure you, American consumers truly do benefit from the safest food supply in the world.


How safe is the U.S. food supply?

Multiple federal and state agencies, including the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) routinely research, test, inspect and sample our food to ensure safety.

Specifically, the USDA strictly tests meat, poultry, dairy, eggs and produce from the farm to the grocery store for any contaminates, such as pesticides, antibiotic residues or food-borne pathogens.

In the rare case when any problem is found, the USDA pulls that product from the food supply to make sure it never reaches consumers.

And our food safety system works. For example, the USDA’s latest 2021 pesticide testing results, released in December 2022, show that 99% of the samples tested had pesticide levels below safe thresholds. The USDA tested 19 different commodities, including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy and grains.

In contrast, the FDA doesn’t routinely test dietary supplements, unless consumers complain (or get ill) from a product.


Should I take a supplement?

Medical and nutrition experts agree, multivitamins and dietary supplements aren’t necessary for healthy adults who eat a wide variety of food.

Specifically, real meat is an excellent source of iron and vitamin B12, for energy and immunity; eggs provide choline, for brain health; and dairy products offer calcium, vitamin D and potassium, for muscle and bone strength.

So it’s OK to skip the expensive dietary supplements on your next shopping trip and grab a gallon of milk instead.

Iowa farmers take pride in their role to produce safe, nutritious food for all. Farmers will continue to work every day to grow the food, fuel and fiber we need, while focused on sustainability and animal care.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is Iowa Farm Bureau's Consumer Content Manager. 

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