To Supplement or Not To Supplement?

May 30, 2019

Despite our best intentions, many Canadians are not getting all the nutrients we need from our diet.  While busy schedules or overly restrictive diets may be influencing our food choices, sometimes it is a medical condition, food allergy or even our age that makes it difficult to meet some of our nutrient needs.  Vitamins, minerals and other nutritional supplements may be beneficial to help some people get the adequate nutrition our body requires.

Today’s article touches on three key supplements-Vitamin D, omega-3 fats and probiotics, and explores more about these nutrients, what foods are good sources, and when to consider taking these in supplement form.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for strong bones, especially in children and the elderly.  Our body needs Vitamin D to help absorb calcium and to help our nerves and muscles work properly. 

Vitamin D is found in cow’s milk, fatty fish like salmon and sardines, margarine, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified food and beverages. 

Vitamin D is naturally produced by our body when our skin is exposed to sunlight.  During winter months we spend more time indoors so getting vitamin D naturally may be challenging.

If you do not consume vitamin D-rich foods regularly, or you have low blood levels of vitamin D, you may need a vitamin D supplement.  In addition, Health Canada recommends that men and women over the age of 50 take a vitamin D supplement.

Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are essential healthy unsaturated fats. They play great roles in the development of brain, nerves and eyes in infants and in helping to lower the risk of heart disease in adults.  They have anti-inflammatory properties, and may also help your immune system.

Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and trout.  They are also found in walnuts, ground flax seeds and flax oil, hemp seeds and hemp oil, canola oil and fortified foods such as omega-3 enriched eggs.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, or do not eat fatty fish or other omega-3 rich foods regularly, you may wish to consider an omega-3 supplement.  Look for a Drug Identification Number (DIN) or Natural Product Number (NPN) on the bottle to ensure you choose a supplement that meets Health Canada guidelines. Choose a supplement that contains both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

If you have certain health problems or are on medications such as blood thinners, speak with your Doctor of Pharmacist before taking omega-3 supplements.  If you have elevated blood triglyceride levels, you may benefit from a high dose omega-3 supplement, and your Doctor can provide specific recommendations.


Probiotics are the good bacteria or living cultures that are naturally found in our gut.  They help balance the gut flora and may boost immunity, support a healthy digestive system and manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Probiotics are found in fermented dairy foods including yogurt, kefir (a tangy dairy drink), and aged cheeses that contain live cultures such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacilli.  Other fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and pickles are also loaded with probiotics.

Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre that act as food for probiotics.  Eating prebiotics such as bananas, asparagus and onions will help probiotics to divide and keep a balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut.

There are many kinds of probiotic supplements on the market, with different strains of bacteria and varying dosages.  It’s important to choose the right probiotic supplement for your specific health issue.  The Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products lists the indications, dosage and clinical evidence of different probiotic supplements.  Check their website at

Before taking any vitamin, mineral or nutritional supplement, it’s best to speak with your health care provider to discuss your individual needs.  In addition to your Doctor, your Save-On-Foods Pharmacist can be a helpful resource to discuss potential benefits and contraindications of the supplements you are interested in.

To learn more about healthy eating including vitamins, minerals and other supplements, consider attending a Nutrition Tour at Save-On-Foods.  Our Registered Dietitians will guide your group of 7 or more through the store and answer your questions about label-reading, healthy eating and much more.  Visit  to request a Nutrition Tour.

Amy Yiu, RD

Amy is a media dietitian, nutrition counselor, writer, speaker, and the founder of Libra Nutrition. She has been a spokesperson of the Dietitians of Canada National Nutrition Month campaign for seven years.

Amy has been a Nutrition Tour Leader for Save-On-Foods and Price Smart Foods in Richmond and Vancouver since 2008. Her passion is to share healthy eating and grocery shopping tips to shoppers. The Kids’ Nutrition Tours she conducts include The Hungry Hippo Handbook, a book designed to help kids learn the health benefits in eating colorful fruits and vegetables.

Amy has published published 300+ food, nutrition and health-related articles in health and food magazines and national newspapers. Amy has conducted more than 20 community workshops spanning 2 years, which reached over 2000 individuals. In her spare time, Amy enjoys yoga, Zumba, meditation, and travelling.  

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