It's no secret Americans aren't always the best at eating a balanced, nutritious diet. When parents hustle from work, to day care, to soccer practice and dance class, a five-minute drive through McDonald's is more feasible than finding a precious hour to cook a meal. Perhaps it's one reason why more people have turned to dietary supplements to fill their daily need for iron, fiber and vitamins A, B, C and D. Let's face it, swigging down a pill is faster than chopping up a colorful salad - and sitting down to eat it.
More than 110 million Americans use vitamins and supplements each year. Multivitamins are the most common dietary supplement, according to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. The study found that the number of Americans taking vitamins and supplements has increased over the past few decades - with 40 percent using supplements from 1988 to 1994, to more than half the United States population from 2003 to 2006.
Despite the spike in intake, some dietitians and health experts question whether vitamins and supplements actually benefit the body. One 22-year long study published in the 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine found that supplements such as vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium and zinc were associated with an increased mortality risk for older women. In a clinical trial of 35,000 men ages 50 and older, researchers discovered that vitamin E increased their risk for prostate cancer by 17 percent.
However, vitamins and supplements can be beneficial as long as people consume an appropriate dose and actually have a nutrient deficiency, according to David Katz, a specialist in internal medicine, director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and U.S. News blogger. "Many Americans, and certainly our kids, have important dietary deficiencies (along with the obvious excesses), and nutrient supplements can help plug these gaps," he wrote in an April Eat + Run post. "But I do look for gaps before advising use of such plugs."
U.S. News, in partnership with Pharmacy Times - a monthly trade journal for pharmacists - surveyed hundreds of pharmacists to see which vitamin and supplement brands they recommend most often. The results were listed in the Pharmacy Times OTC Guide and U.S. News' Top Recommended Health Products list. Below are some of the findings:
Pharmacists named Centrum the No. 1 recommended multivitamin with 63 percent of the vote, followed by One A Day at 19 percent and Nature's Made at 8 percent.
Pharmacists named Citracal the No. 1 recommended calcium supplement with 41 percent of the vote, followed by Caltrate at 22 percent and Os-Cal at 20 percent.
Pharmacists named Metamucil the No. 1 recommended fiber supplement with 36 percent of the vote, followed by Benefiber at 23 percent and Citrucel at 18 percent.
Do you use vitamins or supplements? Do you think they're helpful or harmful? On June 24 at 2 p.m. EST, @USNewsHealth will host a Twitter chat with vitamin and supplement experts. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #vitamins. More information.