We have totally dysfunctional relationship with our vitamins. Most people think that they can live on macaroni and cheese and take care of all that healthy stuff by popping a multivitamin every day. Others pop vitamins anyway, just in case, even if they eat normal, healthy food. About 40 percent Americans are taking multivitamins daily, whether they need them or not. The scientists are not great help. How are we to know what vitamins are in the food we are eating, what are we missing and what we cannot live without, when even doctors do not agree?
According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the US Department of Agriculture, we should take most of our vitamins and minerals from food. The trick to get all vitamins we need is to have great variety of foods, to cover all bases. The reason behind this recommendation is the latest research, which shows that we process vitamins and other nutrients differently when they come from food than if we got them from the supplements. Vitamins work in synergy with other compounds food contains, to make them available to our system. Unfortunately, very few Americans eat diet that covers all their needs. We are doing particularly bad with potassium, Vitamin D, calcium and fiber and most of us need more of them than we are taking through food.
The Guidelines offer a simple advice: our diet should be rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy oils and nuts and low in unhealthy fats and red meat.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, we do not have much of a choice, since very few of us eat well. We need our pills. “A daily multivitamin is a good nutrition insurance policy.” For most of us, multivitamin pill taken daily is a cheap insurance policy against missing some vitamin that we really need. For most of us, the benefits outweigh the risks. But, some vitamins, taken when we do not need them, can put our health at risk. For example, too much iron can cause organ damage, especially in people who do not require iron supplement, such as men and postmenopausal women. Zinc supplements, taken by men for a long period of time, can increase their risk of prostate cancer.
Common sense dictates that we should talk to our doctor before we take any medication, including vitamin supplements. Sometimes medication we are taking does not work well with some vitamins or minerals. Or we are vulnerable because of some health issue. There can be too much of a good thing.