Perhaps you recall your mother nagging you about taking your multivitamins when you were a kid. Now that you’re become older, wiser, and a little more health-conscious especially during the prevailing pandemic, you may find yourself wondering: was she right? Unfortunately, I don’t have a clear-cut answer for you. Different nutritionists say very different things about multivitamins, with some experts claiming that they are essential for good health and others brushing them off as a mere marketing scam. The research itself is also somewhat conflicting with some showing lesser health risks for those taking vitamins whilst others associating with a high mortality rate. However, what nutritionists do pretty definitively agree on is that you cannot use supplements to make up for your bad eating habits. For one thing, multivitamins lack the phytonutrients which are found in natural healthy food. Living on products high in problematic ingredients is also going to have horrific consequences on your health and weight whether you’re taking a vitamin or not. With so many multivitamins out there, though, which ones should you pick? For one thing, stay away from gummy vitamins, which usually come with unnecessary sugar and other worrisome artificial ingredients. You should also avoid unusually expensive varieties of multivitamins, since they’re unlikely to have any real benefits over cheaper ones.
It is natural to be overwhelmed by the towering shelves of vitamin and mineral supplements in the grocery store. There are so many options that sound great, but there are also so many questions: Which ones really work? Exactly how effective are they? Are they worth the money? These are good questions for anybody who wants to live healthier and avoid heart disease and stroke. But before you start buying everything from Vitamin A to Zinc, remember there’s only one way to be sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs: Eat healthy foods. Supplements can be beneficial, but the key to vitamin and mineral success is eating a balanced diet. Before taking vitamin and mineral supplements, talk to your physician about your personal dietary plan. Nutritionists recommend food first because foods provides a variety of vitamins and minerals and also dietary factors that are not found in a vitamin or mineral supplement. There, are, however, some convincing reasons that taking a multivitamin is a good idea.
- For one thing, water soluble vitamins cannot be stored in the body, so you should ideally consume them almost every day, which is difficult to do on even the healthiest diet! The nutrient content of food also isn’t entirely predictable, and can be greatly altered by and cooking.
- Additionally, nutriments could interfere with your absorption of certain nutrients if your diet includes a lot of plant foods, and if you’re a full vegetarian, your risk of certain deficiencies may be even higher. Since aging can make it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients and will magnify the effects of any vitamin deficiencies, it may also be a particularly good idea to take a multivitamin if you are over 50.
- Other groups who may get a particular benefit from a multivitamin include picky eaters who don’t eat an appropriately varied diet and people with certain health conditions. Not getting enough sunlight or having darker colored skin may also put you at increased risk of becoming deficient in Vitamin D, and if you can’t stomach cod liver oil, you may want to look into an supplement.
- Taking a vitamin is also especially important if you’re pregnant, or trying to conceive, since pregnant women need higher levels of nutrients like folic acid and iron even very early during the course of their pregnancy. Thus, keeping your levels of these important nutrients high could lower your baby’s risk of certain health conditions and being born weak.
- Ensuring adequate vitamin intake is also important because many nutrients work synergistically. For example, calcium can only fulfill all of its proper biological functions if you also have adequate levels of vitamins D, so even a few missing nutrients could create a snowball effect of ill health.
- Symptoms of vitamin deficiency include brain fog, fatigue, brittle nails, odd cravings, constipation and muscle cramps. If you’re worried that you could be deficient in any specific nutrients, you could start tracking your daily intake of the vitamin in question, or talk to your doctor about taking a formal test.
- While diet is the key to getting the best vitamins and minerals, supplements can help. For instance, if you’re doing your best to eat healthy foods but still are deficient in some areas, supplements can help. The key is to ensure they’re taken in addition to healthy diet choices and nutrient-dense foods. They’re supplements, not replacements. Only use supplements if your healthcare professional has recommended them.
- A supplement will generally provide 100 percent of the daily recommended allowance for all vitamins and minerals. Therefore, many nutritionists agree that a supplement is OK if nutrient needs are not being met by a healthy food-based diet.
- Patients with heart disease should consume about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids. This should ideally come from fish. This can be hard to get by diet alone, so a supplement could be needed. As always, consult with a physician first.
- It is recommended to take a multivitamin because, as healthy of a diet as it is, it is also a fairly limited diet, so there are probably nutrients you’re missing out on your meal plan even if you’re doing everything right. Additionally, if you’ve been eating an unhealthy diet for a long time, it might take you a while to replenish your stores of all the vitamins and minerals that you’ve been missing out on.
- The fresh food you eat is loaded with nutrients necessary for good health, such as magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A and C. But many older adults aren’t getting enough nutrients from their diets. The typical modern man diet is heavy in nutrient-poor processed foods, refined grains, and added sugar that are all linked to inflammation and chronic disease. Yet even if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you may still fall short of needed nutrients. That’s a consequence of aging. As we get older, our ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases. Also, our energy needs aren’t the same, and we tend to eat less. This deficiency could be rightly fulfilled by supplements.
- Products that have too many vitamins can also be outright dangerous, since these “mega-doses” have been associated with symptoms including kidney stones (Vitamin C), increased cancer risk (vitamins A and E), heart failure (vitamin E), bone problems (Vitamin A), and nerve pain and seizures (Vitamin B6).
- Also, people should not pick supplements that are not certified if they’re looking for the safest and highest quality products.
- Since the research linking better nutrition with better health is far more than anything that’s been found out about supplemental vitamins, if you’re only going to choose one or the other, a healthy diet is for sure the way to go rather than consuming up on supplements.
- Foods provide many bioactive compounds and dietary fiber that typically aren’t found in supplements. And some supplements don’t allow for full absorption of vitamins. If taken on an empty stomach without any food, some of the fat-soluble vitamins will not be absorbed as well as they would if the supplement was consumed with a food that provides fat.
- It is not recommended to take antioxidant vitamin supplements such as A, C and E. Scientific evidence does not suggest these can eliminate the need to reduce blood pressure or lower blood cholesterol.
- Relying on supplements alone is a big NO. There isn’t sufficient data to suggest that healthy people benefit by taking certain vitamin or mineral supplements in excess of the daily recommended allowance.
- Dieticians recommend that healthy people get adequate nutrients by eating a variety of foods in moderation, rather than by taking supplements. Interactions between dietary supplements and prescription drugs and among several dietary supplements taken at the same time may occur. Too much iron can increase the risk of chronic disease, and too much vitamin A can cause birth defects. Dietary supplements would seem to be the obvious way to plug gaps in your diet but taking too much can actually harm you. For example, you can get too much of a particular nutrient without realizing it. Extra vitamin A supplements can lead to dangerous, toxic levels if taken too frequently.
- The evidence about the benefits of multivitamins is mixed with many researches finding out that multivitamins showed no benefit in preventing early death. Because the findings from many such studies conflict, nutritionists do not support vitamin and mineral supplements to ward off disease.
Maintaining the Balance
Nutritionists advise that you try to improve your diet before you use supplements. That’s because nutrients are most potent when they come from food. They are accompanied by many nonessential but beneficial nutrients, such as hundreds of carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants that aren’t in most supplements. Plus, food tastes better and is often less expensive than adding supplements. You should work with a dietitian, and try to get a sense of what’s missing from your diet and what changes might be considered. If you are unable to make dietary changes, or if you have a genuine deficiency in a particular nutrient, such as vitamin D, dieticians say that a supplement may be helpful. Just be careful; the manufacture of supplements isn’t monitored by the government in the way that the manufacture of pharmaceuticals is; so you can’t be sure exactly what you’re getting. You should look for a multivitamin with D and B vitamins (especially folate), iron, magnesium, and calcium and go for a well-known brand that’s been around for a long time and is likely well tested.
To maintain a healthy and balanced diet, the nutritionists also recommend that we consume food from all five major food groups every day; with the like chips, lollies and soft drinks to only be consumed occasionally and in moderation. We need vitamins in our diet because unfortunately, most people do not adhere to the healthy dietary guidelines. Discretionary foods with low nutritional value account for a lot of our energy intake, and very few of us meet the recommended intake of vegetables. This means that we are not getting all the essential vitamins and other nutrients that we need from the foods we eat. However, vitamins supplements don’t fix our diet. Supplements are often thought as a way to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals, but they should not be used as a substitute for a healthy diet. This is because a healthy diet provides many other nutrients like dietary fiber, antioxidants and some vitamins and minerals that can’t be effectively delivered in a supplement.
In addition to this, not all supplements will be effectively absorbed by the body, especially when consumed in isolation. For example, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) will not be absorbed properly unless consumed with food. Using supplements can also give you a false sense of wellbeing and result in continued poor dietary health choices, which can do more harm than good. In short, while vitamin supplements can ensure you meet your daily requirements for specific conditions and deficiencies, they are no substitute for the many benefits provided by a complete and well-balanced diet. Dietitians recommend that the best way to improve vitamin intake is to eat vitamin-rich foods that make up a healthy, balanced diet.