Diabetes & Food

Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements

Did you know? Supplements are NOT regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means the vitamins and supplements you see at the store are not proven as safe and effective. If you choose to use a supplement, look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal on the bottle. That means the supplement meets the standards of the USP. Can’t find it? Ask your pharmacist for help or visit Operation Supplement Safety.  

What does the research about diabetes and vitamins say? 

The Standards of Care in Diabetes (Standards of Care) is published by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) every year. It is a set of diabetes care guidelines based on the latest scientific research and clinical trials that health care professionals use to help make treatment decisions about diabetes.  

The Standards of Care says supplements are not proven as an effective option for lowering your blood glucose (blood sugar) or supporting diabetes management. However, for some people, a multivitamin may be needed.   

From the Standards of Care:  

  • “Without underlying deficiency, there is no benefits from herbal or nonherbal (i.e., vitamin or mineral) supplementation for people with diabetes.” 
  • “For special populations, including pregnant or lactating individuals, older adults, vegetarians, and people following very-low-calorie or low-carbohydrate diets, a multivitamin may be necessary.” 

What to Consider Before Taking Supplements with Diabetes 

Whether or not a supplement has clinical evidence to suggest it helps with diabetes or related complications, the bigger question to ask is, are you going to be harmed by taking this supplement or vitamin? As a reminder, the ADA’s Standards of Care does not recommend taking supplements unless you have been diagnosed with a nutrient deficiency. 

If you have been told you have a nutrient deficiency, work with your doctor to find a supplement that may help. Common nutrient deficiencies are iron, vitamins D and B12, magnesium, and calcium. 

The Best Way to Get Vitamins and Minerals  

Many think a supplement contains the same vitamins and minerals as whole foods, so why not just take a pill? While that might seem easier, eating healthy foods is the best way to ensure the vitamins are absorbed and used by your body effectively. Plus, there are many other compounds present in foods, like phytochemicals, that work together and provide helpful benefits for your body. Phytochemicals are bioactive compounds that have been found to be helpful in preventing cancer in humans. 

Whole foods contain a mix of many compounds that may help your body absorb and use nutrients. Eating a well-balanced meal is much healthier, and tastier, than taking a multivitamin. It’s not clear whether vitamins and minerals have the same effect in the body when taken in supplement form.  

Supplements That Impact Blood Glucose 

Supplements may cause unwelcome—or dangerous—side effects, especially if they interact with your medications. While some ingredients could intensify the effects of your diabetes medications, causing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), others may have the opposite effect, leading to hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). This is why it is important to always discuss any supplements you are taking or want to take with your health care team. 

Foods are the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. If your health care team has recommended a supplement, choose products with the USP symbol. For all other potential supplements you may be considering, always speak with your health care provider before you start any new supplement.