Dear Hungry after Diet Cokes,
People have varying reactions to diet sodas. Whether they're due to the aspartame (brand name, Nutrasweet), or something else, is a good question. Many studies have investigated the effect aspartame has on appetite because some people find it increases the desire to eat, while others notice it suppresses it. Questions remain because the results are not consistent. Even when blood sugar levels were measured after drinking an aspartame-sweetened beverage, some levels increased, others decreased, and the rest remained unchanged.
Most likely the caffeine in the soda isn't what's making you hungry. Caffeine is generally regarded as a mild appetite suppressant. Don't get any ideas here, because it is not successful in weight control. Caffeine's effect on appetite is short lived. Studies on this subject have consistently shown that caffeine is not an effective weight loss aid. In terms of caffeine content, a 12-oz. can of diet cola typically has about 35 mg of caffeine while a 12-oz. cup of brewed coffee has about 150 - 200 mg.
Chemical effects aside, here's another possibility: lots of people substitute a diet soda for a snack, or even worse, a meal. Ignoring your hunger denies your body the energy it needs. Instead of feeling satisfied from the soda, your need to eat becomes more pronounced. It may not be the aspartame, but the lack of food that's driving your appetite. Take notice of when the diet soda makes you hungry. If it has been a few hours since you've eaten, you probably need some nourishment. Instead of having that diet soda, try to eat a healthy and satisfying snack (or meal, if a longer time has passed).
If you find that the diet soda makes you hungrier when you're having it with a meal, consider whether your meal is filling. Substitute water for the diet soda and see if you feel the same way. If you're still hungry afterwards, then you need to re-work your meal. Either way, it's a good idea to cut down on the diet soda. Try water or seltzer with a spritz of juice for added flavor instead. Better yet, some milk or juice may help to fill you up and provide some valuable nutrients.
Dear Out to lunch bunch,
Restaurants, fast food joints, and delis are often convenient for a quick meal and provide a welcome opportunity to socialize. However, there are a couple of ways in which eating out may be less than favorable for your health. The specific effects will vary depending on the type of restaurants and dishes you choose, which is why educating yourself is a great place to start. Here are some reasons why eating out can make it hard to maintain a healthy and balanced diet:
- Calorie overload: While restaurants and fast food joints have a knack for making tasty and unique foods, the dishes often have more calories than meals you’d make at home. Researchers studying chain restaurants found that the average entrée had 674 calories, the average side had 260 calories, the average beverage had 419 calories, and the average dessert had 429 calories. A bit of math reveals that a single meal out could add up to over 1,000 calories! Depending upon your specific caloric needs, you could be knocking out half of your recommended daily caloric intake with a single meal. Fortunately, many restaurants make calorie information available, which can be a useful resource if you’re eating out often.
- Mega portions: One of the reasons restaurant food is often higher in calories is because of the large portions. Have you ever felt like your eyes were bigger than your stomach? You’re not alone. It’s been well established that when people are presented with large portions, many will eat far beyond the point of feeling full. Large restaurant portions can make it easy for you to fall into overeating without even realizing it.
- Scads of salt: The sodium content of food in eating establishments is often sky high: 1,848 mg per 1000 calories in a fast food joint, and 2,090 mg per 1,000 calories at a sit-down restaurant. Those numbers are creeping up on the recommended daily limit of 2300 mg per day, so looking for dishes containing lower amounts of sodium can help you keep your levels in check.
The type of restaurants you frequent also matters as far as health risks are concerned. For those who are into the burgers-and-fries joints, research shows an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as an overall lowered intake of key nutrients. For those who prefer fast-food restaurants that primarily serve sandwiches and subs, there tends to be increased intake of fat and sodium. (However, weight gain has not been associated with consumption of foods from these establishments). Finally, for those heading off to full-service restaurants, studies show that even though you’re probably consuming adequate amounts of fruits and veggies, you’re exposed to high sodium content, which increases your risk of developing high blood pressure.
If you’re ever interested in trying your hand in the kitchen to avoid some of these health risks of eating out, you can read No time to cook or visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for some ideas on quick and nutritionally-balanced meals you can make. Additionally, here are a couple of ideas on ways to make more healthful choices when you do go out:
- Order water, low-fat or fat-free milk, or unsweetened tea to drink in order to avoid beverages with lots of added sugar.
- Ask for whole-wheat bread for sandwiches.
- Start with a salad packed with veggies to help control hunger and feel satisfied sooner.
- Ask for dressings to be served on the side so that you can have control over how much you use, add little or no butter to your food, and avoid dishes with creamy sauces or gravies.
- Choose main dishes with lots of veggies.
- Order steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.
- At buffet restaurants, order an item from the menu instead of going for the all-you-can-eat option.
- Choose fruits for dessert.
- If the portions at a restaurant are larger than you want, split it with a friend, order an appetizer-sized portion, take leftovers home, and remember that you don’t have to “clean your plate.”
- Pack a healthy snack for yourself (e.g., fresh fruit, veggies, or a handful of nuts) if you’re going to be out and about to avoid stopping to buy an unhealthy snack.
List adapted from choosemyplate.gov.
Finally, whether you choose to eat out regularly or just for the occasional treat, a strategy known as “mindful eating” might be a handy tool. Mindful eating involves actively making yourself aware of why and how you are consuming food and the way your body feels when eating. Are you consciously aware of when you’ve eaten your fill, or is eating more of an automatic reflex? Asking yourself questions like this may help you make more balanced menu choices and avoid the some of negative effects of eating out, although further research on mindful eating is still emerging.
There’s certainly a lot of information to digest on the effects of eating out! But whether you’re eating on the run or whipping up a meal at home, maintaining a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is key. As they say, everything in moderation!
In a word, no! Fat — both on our bodies and in our diet — gets an undeserved bad rap and is actually essential for our survival. Body fat is found in places you may not even think about when you're considering its role in our health. It's part of:
- Every cell membrane
- Some hormones and prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) which regulate many body functions
- Nerve sheaths (nerve coverings)
Body fat is categorized as either essential or storage fat; both types play a vital role in our functioning. Essential fat is found in bone marrow and lipid rich tissues throughout the body. Storage fat is located around internal organs and under the skin (subcutaneous). These two types of body fat play important roles in keeping our bodies healthy. For example:
- A layer of fat surrounds each organ (such as your heart, liver, kidneys, etc.), protecting and cushioning it against impact during sports or accidents,
- Fat helps maintain normal body temperature.
- Fat provides us with a supply of stored energy, which can sustain us if food is not available.
Dietary fat is the fat found in a variety of foods and is a concentrated source of energy for the body. It is dangerous to eliminate all fat from your diet. Certain fats, essential fatty acids, can only be obtained from foods. These are incorporated into regulators of specific body processes such as blood pressure and even help us maintain healthy skin. Dietary fats are also required to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. These nutrients are vital to our vision, bone formation and maintenance, blood protection and clotting, nerve development, and can act as a defense against oxidation. In addition to their health benefits, fats provide joy in eating. They carry flavors and aromas, and provide foods with pleasurable textures. Fats also fill us and help satisfy our appetite.
When it comes to fat, too much or too little on our bodies and in our diets is not recommended. The related Q&As can shed some more light on the facts about fat.
Dear Student & Parent,
Bravo to eating breakfast! It's fairly well known as this point that a healthy breakfast is a great way to start each day — especially when it's made from scratch. Taking into consideration that, just sometimes, younger people are a little picky about what they'll eat, not to mention the energy it can take a groggy chef to whip up something in the A.M., here are a few easy, interesting, and nutritious breakfast recipes:
Creamy Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal (makes two servings):
2 c. skim milk
1 c. rolled oats
1 T. Brown sugar
1 T. Maple syrup
1 apple — peeled, cored, and chopped into cubes
- In a medium pot, heat the milk over medium heat, almost to a boil.
- Add the oatmeal, reduce the heat to low, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until all of the milk is soaked up by the oatmeal.
- Add the brown sugar, maple syrup, and apple pieces. Stir well and serve.
Berry Parfaits (makes two servings):
2 containers of yogurt (vanilla, lemon, or peach)
2 c. mixed berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries
1 c. low fat granola
- In 2 glasses or plastic cups, add a layer of yogurt to the bottom. Cover with a layer of berries, and then sprinkle on a layer of granola.
- Repeat the layers until the glasses or cups are full, ending with a sprinkle of granola.
Egg Scramblers (one serving):
1 or 2 eggs
1 toasted whole wheat pita or toasted English muffin
Optional item(s): mushrooms, peppers, grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions, salsa, or whatever else you like!
- Crack eggs into a glass measuring cup and beat well. Mix in any other ingredients you like.
- Cover tightly with a microwave safe plastic wrap.
- Microwave at 70 percent: 1 minute for 1 egg; 1-½ minutes for 2 eggs — slightly longer if you add other ingredients, or if you like your eggs more well done.
- Spoon into a pita, or onto a toasted English muffin.
- Crack eggs into a bowl and beat well. Mix in any other ingredients you like.
- Pour egg mixture into a non-stick pan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until eggs are cooked through, not runny.
- Spoon into a pita or onto a toasted English muffin.
Banana Smoothie (makes one serving):
1 banana cut into 1-inch chunks (works great if already frozen)
½ c. yogurt
½ c. milk or soy milk
2 T. honey or jam
¼ t. vanilla extract
- Put all of the ingredients into a blender. Mix until all of the fruit is pureed.
- Pour into a glass, and drink immediately.
You can freeze this beverage overnight, then toss it into a blender, and pour it back in the plastic cup you froze it in. If you run out of time in the morning, you can bring your smoothie with you on the way to school.
Regardless of what you make, consider involving your breakfast companion in both the decision process and making the breakfast. This way you can both enjoy some time together and a nutrient-filled morning. Eat up!
Somthing's fishy about your lab results. The improvement in your cholesterol levels may be due to the foods you replaced with the fish, rather than the fish in and of itself. The fats found in some varieties of fish, omega-3 fatty acids, reduce triglyceride levels in the blood, but generally do not affect cholesterol levels.
However, you're still doing yourself a favor by feasting on fish. Eating fish offers many major health advantages. The primary benefit found from including fish oils in your diet is the lowered risk for sudden cardiac death. This means that fish eaters decrease their chance of dying suddenly from a heart attack (keep in mind that there are different types of heart attacks).
Two mechanisms explain how eating fish reduces the chance of heart attack. First, it seems that fish oil fatty acids reduce blood clotting by decreasing the stickiness of blood platelets. Second, omega-3 oils may play a role in stabilizing heart rhythms. It could be that the electrical impulses that go awry during some heart attacks are preserved in fish eaters. These protective qualities may work together, resulting in the reduced risk of sudden cardiac death that has been observed among fish consumers. Other possible health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are their potential to help lower blood pressure and protect against some forms of stroke.
Remember, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. There are certain risks associated with eating too much fish. The main risk has to do with the toxicity of environmental contaminants, primarily mercury, which ends up in fish due to environmental pollution. Because of this, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are often advised to avoid fish. In addition, there are various recommendations for eating fish to avoid consuming dangerous levels of mercury, as its toxicity can damage the brain, kidneys, and lungs. Mercury levels may be especially high in shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
But in moderate amount, fish can be beneficial, especially for people eating a western diet that is often low in omega 3s. Good sources of omega 3 include:
- Mackerel (watch out for the higher mercury levels in king mackerel)
- Rainbow and lake trout
- Albacore, blue fin, and yellow fin tuna (including the canned type)
- Striped sea bass
- Swordfish (watch out for higher mercury levels)
Fish oil supplements, on the other hand, contain almost no toxic contaminants and thus are safe. However, they can cause gastric symptoms, so it is best to take them with food. People with low blood pressure or who are taking medication for low blood pressure should also be careful about eating too much fish, since the fish oil could lower blood pressure even more. In very high amounts, fish oils can have some anti-coagulant effects, causing nosebleeds in some people.
Eating these jewels of the sea even once or twice a week may lead to heart healthy benefits. Obviously an all-around healthy diet will provide even more protection from heart disease, and other maladies, too.
You're right in thinking that some foods could help improve health or protect against disease. Some of these disease-fighting substances in food are vitamins and minerals, but another diverse group of plant chemicals are called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals, many of which are antioxidants, impart distinct flavors, aromas, and pigments to foods. For example, one enormous class of antioxidants, flavonoids, includes a group called allyl sulfides, which are found in garlic, onions, and shallots. It's believed that allyl sulfides may help produce a detoxification enzyme that protects against carcinogens. Other antioxidants are detectable by their colors — vividly colored fruits and veggies are rich sources of beneficial plant chemicals. For example, anthocyanins are antioxidants that lend the deep red, blue, and purple hues to raspberries, blueberries, eggplant, and red cabbage.
So how do antioxidants work? They are believed to protect cells from "free radicals," which are harmful oxygen molecules. Free radicals may cause damage to cells, possibly resulting in cancer. Smoking, air pollution, infection, and excessive sunlight can all increase production of free radicals, although they are also formed from normal bodily functions. Antioxidants may help prevent the formation of carcinogens (cancer causing substances), block the actions of carcinogens, and/or suppress cancer development. Most of these actions have yet to be proven in humans; however, foods containing antioxidants (mostly plants) contain many other healthy components.
The following table lists various classes of antioxidants and other phytochemicals, some of their rich food sources, and how they are believed to work:
citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, leafy vegetables, strawberries, potatoes
Inhibits nitrosamine formation, a potentially dangerous carcinogen
apricots, papaya, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, mangoes, carrots, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, corn, cantaloupe
Numerous anti-cancer functions
May detoxify cancer promoters
cooked tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit
A class of carotenoids that's protective against prostate and possibly other cancers
blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, cherries, red peppers, eggplant, red cabbage
Antioxidant cell protection; may help prevent binding of carcinogens to DNA
garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, chives, scallions
Various anti-carcinogen functions
parsley, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, peppers, mint, basil, citrus fruits
Aid protective enzyme activity
parsley, carrots, citrus fruits, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, soybeans, berries
Block receptor sites for hormones that promote cancer
cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale
Stimulate production of enzymes that break down cancer causing agents
parsley, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, citrus fruits, whole grains, berries
Antioxidant properties; inhibit nitrosamine formation and help form protective enzymes
green tea, berries
Antioxidants linked to lower rates of gastrointestinal cancer
As you can see, a wide variety of fruits and veggies fall into one or more of the categories named above. Of note, the benefit from phytochemicals comes from eating the food, not in taking pills or supplements. Fruits and veggies contain a variety of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, as well as fiber — these cannot be replicated in a pill form. In addition, excessive amounts of certain vitamins or other compounds found in some supplements have the potential to cause harm.
To optimize your antioxidant intake, you can include at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day. If you're already doing this, why not aim for even more? Researchers have found that five to nine servings per day are most beneficial. Set your sights on variety, too. To obtain the benefits of these plant compounds, try to vary your selections from day to day, and from week to week. Include red, yellow, green, orange, blue, purple, brown, and white fruits and veggies, and enjoy a colorful (and healthful) eating plan!
Just as there are healthy and unhealthy omnivores, there are healthy and unhealthy vegetarians, too. Teenagers are at a critical point in their lives in terms of height and bone development. Including nutritious foods in eating plans is of major importance in terms of reaching their full potential, both for height and bone density.
While adequate protein is essential for bone development and maximum growth, you can get enough protein by eating a varied and balanced vegetarian diet. Including eggs and dairy is an easy way to get protein in your diet, however plants and grains can be combined to give you the protein you need as well (check out Vegetarian wants to bulk up with protein foods for more info). Dairy and eggs contain complete proteins, meaning they have all the amino acids in the right proportions to be used by your body for growth and tissue repair. Dairy foods contain vitamin B12, which is only found in foods of animal origin. This vitamin is vital to your bone marrow, nervous system, and other life-sustaining functions. In addition to calcium, dairy products also contain phosphorous, the second largest component of bone. Look for dairy products fortified with vitamin D, which is needed to absorb calcium.
Whether you include poultry and fish is up to you. For many teens, it is easier to meet one's protein needs by including a wide variety of foods in their diet. Since you need sufficient protein every day, eating poultry or fish on some days can be a healthy option. On meatless days, including legumes, nuts, and/or soy foods can do the trick. Lots of other nutrients, many found in fruits and veggies, are also important for bone health. Can drinking milk prevent osteoporosis? in Go Ask Alice's Nutrition and Physical Activity archive lists some good food sources of bone building nutrients.
Everyone, teens included, must take in enough calories to meet their body's energy needs; otherwise, the protein will be burned for energy, and will not be available for growth and development of strong bones and lean body mass. If a very low-calorie diet is what you have in mind, it would be a good idea to consult with your primary care provider before cutting back on your food intake. It is during adolescence when you reach your fullest potential in terms of bone development (called peak bone mass). If not reached by young adulthood, you can't make up for sub-optimal bone development later in life. So, taking in too few calories and/or protein during the teen years could have implications for your bone health later in life.
This info isn't meant to promote overeating, or under-eating, but rather to help you learn to take in the right amount of food to meet your body's needs. Look first to foods that contain nutrients, and try not to overdo the empty calorie foods, such as soda. Determining what you really need can be challenging, especially because your body is in a state of change.
Your protein and calorie requirements will depend on your stage of growth and physical activity. The Recommended Energy and Protein Allowances, from the RDA, do not take into account these extra amounts you may need. For teens, it's recommended to use height as a measure for calorie and protein needs, rather than weight. To figure out your height in centimeters (cm.), multiply inches by 2.5. Your minimum needs can then be calculated from this chart:
|Age (years)||Calories per cm.||Grams of Protein per cm.|
|11 - 14||14.0||0.29|
|15 - 18||13.5||0.26|
|19 - 24||13.4||0.28|
|11 - 14||16.0||0.28|
|15 - 18||17.0||0.33|
|19 - 24||16.4||0.33|
You will need more calories and protein if you are very active and/or are in a rapid growth spurt.
Making healthy choices as you develop during your teen years can help you be healthy for the rest of your life. Kudos to you and your sister for beginning your healthy eating patterns now,
The key to getting enough protein in your diet if your a vegetarian is to eat a combination of plant-based protein. It’s good to know that proteins (which are necessary not just for muscle growth and maintenance, but also for bones, tissues, nails, hair, and metabolism) are made up of amino acids. Some are actually produced by the body itself. To get the amino acids that the body doesn't make (of which there are nine), it's necessary to eat foods that contain them. That being the case, eating those foods during the same day, rather than in the same meal, is sufficient to get what you need. Strength and aerobic training are also part of the muscle building equation as well. And along those lines, there are a few considerations to be made in order to sufficiently fuel your body and achieve the gains you’re seeking (more on that later).
There are a variety of ways to combine vegetarian foods to reach complete proteins, including:
- Beans and rice
- Peanut butter and bread
- Tofu, stir-fried vegetables, and rice
Soy protein is complete by itself. As a general rule, combining legumes with grains and nuts with grains provide you with the complete array of amino acids, as will eggs and milk products (if you are a vegetarian that consumes milk and egg products, a.k.a., a lacto-ovo vegetarian). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided some examples on daily amounts of plant-protein sources (based on a 2,000-calorie diet):
- For vegetarians: an average of 0.6 ounces (oz.) eggs, 1.4 oz. beans and peas, 1.6 oz. soy-products and 1.9 oz. of nuts and seeds
- For vegans (folks who eschew all animal products, including eggs and milk): 1.9 oz. beans and peas, 1.4 oz. soy-products, and 2.2 oz. nuts and seeds.
Some veggie-friendly, protein-rich sources include foods such as tempeh (1 cup = 31 grams), lentils (1 cup, cooked = 18 grams), chickpeas (1 cup, cooked = 15 grams), quinoa (1 cup, cooked = 8 grams), peanut butter (2 tablespoons = 8 grams), and broccoli (1 cup, cooked = 4 grams). For additional information about vegetarian- and vegan-friendly protein sources, check out the Vegetarian Resource Group website.
Also, keep in mind that you need to strength train in order to increase muscle — just eating more protein won't cut it. If you're new to strength training, check out Weight training: Do I need to change my workout to see results?. Once you start a strength-training routine, it’s recommend that you eat an extra 500 or so calories each day in order to build muscle mass, even if you don't need to eat more protein. Also, make sure to take in enough carbohydrates. Too few carbs will mean that your muscles won't have adequate fuel, whigh might mean that may feel more tired or weak from exercise.
If you’re an athlete, you’ll likely need more protein in your diet than less physically active individuals. With that in mind, however, the regular consumption of protein in the U.S. typically exceeds the recommended daily amount for even body building needs, so most people don't need to add more protein-rich foods to their daily intake. For example, the average (non-body-building) American vegetarian gets about 14 to 18 percent of daily calories from protein (already higher than the recommended 10 percent). You might consider keeping track of what you eat over the course of a week or two to see if you need to add more protein to your diet and, if so, how much. Timing of protein intake may matter too: some experts recommend that serious athletes eat five to six small meals containing protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains (also drink lots of water) each day. Vegetarian athletes may need to pay special attention to make sure they are getting adequate levels vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and iron (which can be more difficult when not consuming meat). For more information on diet and bodybuilding, check out Wants to build muscle mass through weight lifting and a healthy diet in the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archives.
Dear Breakfast Boycotter,
Your brain (and central nervous system) run on glucose — that's the fuel you need to think, walk, talk, and carry on any and all activities. Let's say that the last time you eat something at night is at 10 or 11 PM (not optimal, just an example). The following day, you don't eat breakfast but wait until about noon or so to eat — you've gone thirteen or fourteen hours with nothing in your system. Your poor brain is surely deprived — and your body has to work extra hard to break down any stored carbohydrate or turn fat or protein into a usable form for your brain to function. That's a lot to ask for when you're sitting in a classroom, trying to concentrate on reading, or doing any other work. Eating breakfast has been proven (many times) to improve concentration, problem solving ability, mental performance, memory, and mood. You will certainly be at a disadvantage if your classmates have eaten breakfast and you've gone without. On average, they will think faster and clearer, and will have better recall than you. School or work can be tough enough without this extra added pressure.
Breakfast skippers also have a harder time fitting important nutrients into their diet. Many foods eaten at breakfast contain significant amounts of vitamins C and D, calcium, iron, and fiber.
Some people believe that skipping breakfast may help them lose weight. Not so! Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. Becoming overhungry often leads to a lack of control and distorted satiety signals (meaning it's hard to determine when you're full). This can result in taking in more calories than if one had an appropriate breakfast. As a matter of fact, it's easier to control one's weight by eating smaller meals and snacks more frequently.
What if there's just no time in the morning to eat breakfast? There are plenty of items you can bring along with you to school or work. Carry a resealable bag of easy-to-eat whole grain cereal, or bring a yogurt or small box of skim milk, juice, or fruit. If you just can't stomach food in the morning, try to have a little something — such as some juice — and bring along a mid-morning snack. Other good portable items include: whole grain crackers, a hard boiled egg, cottage cheese, low-fat granola bars, or even a peanut butter sandwich. Single serving hot cereals, such as oatmeal, are handy — all you have to do is add hot water, available at most cafeterias or delis.
Whatever your choice, eat something. If you think you're doing fine with no breakfast, just try changing your tune for a week —you're likely to notice a difference. You will undoubtedly perform better with some fuel in your system, and, hopefully, become a breakfast believer.
Dear Supplementally Confused,
It may depend on the type of dietary supplement. Supplements range from daily multi-vitamins and minerals to anabolic steroids. Certain supplements are recommended for various conditions. For example, calcium supplements are often encouraged to help prevent osteoporosis, and iron is recommended for those who are anemic. Pregnant women's increased nutritional needs may require that they supplement with vitamins and minerals. The performance enhancing supplements that are so widely advertised today (i.e., creatine, chromium picolinate, protein shakes, amino acids) are not needed by the average person.
The best way to get all of the nutrients your body needs is to eat a healthy diet. To do this, you should eat a variety of foods, have a good balance within the food groups (read Food Guidelines — How much is a serving? for details), eat enough calories (at least 1200), and make nutrient-dense choices, such as whole wheat bread and skim milk as opposed to white bread and whole milk.
Although vitamin and mineral supplements serve an important purpose for some people, you cannot depend on pills alone to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. Pills do not have phytochemicals, the non-nutrient compounds found in plant-derived foods that have biological activity in the body. Approximately 150 phytochemicals are found in foods along with the vitamins and minerals the body needs. Phytochemicals play a very important role in helping the body defend itself against cancer and cancer-causing agents, and probably many other things as well. An example of a known phytochemical is beta-carotene, a carotenoid. It is found in deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and apricots. Carotenoids act as antioxidants, reducing the risk of cancer. Read Antioxidants for more info.
So the best bet is to do what you were told as a child and, "eat your fruits and veggies!" Five servings a day is a great start. If you do supplement, be careful not to overdose. More of a "good" thing is not necessarily good for you. Besides being expensive, over-supplementing can be harmful to you. For more information, read What's the difference between vitamins and minerals? from the Go Ask Alice! Nutrition & Physical Activity archives.