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All it takes is this… pill?
Did you know that supplements and multivitamins will cure whatever ails you? What, you don’t believe in magic pills? When I was a kid, my parents would periodically decide that I should be taking a multivitamin. The chewables were chalky, and the pills were humongous. I thought surely no one but my parents would ever consider taking one of those things!
I was wrong.
One in three Americans takes one or more supplements a day, at a cost of up to $75 a month, according to a recent Nutrition Action Health Newsletter. So, the question: Do we need supplements to be healthy? The answer, as it is so often, is — it depends. But more often than not supplements are not the magic bullet they claim to be.
1) If a little is good, a lot must be better, right?
Not when it comes to nutrition. Our bodies are designed to handle the vitamin and mineral load that is found naturally in food, say, 300 milligrams of Calcium found in milk, but not the “mega dose” of a 1,000-milligram supplement. Our kidneys work overtime to clear out the excess through our urine.
2) The same thing I get in food, I can get from a pill, right?
A pill cannot duplicate the complex combinations of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals found naturally in fruits and vegetables. More than 8,000 phytochemicals in different combinations in plant-based foods protect us from chronic diseases, according to a Cornell study. These combinations could never be duplicated in pill form, and we only get the full benefit when we eat a variety of whole foods. Numerous studies show that people who take a multivitamin or mega-dose supplements are just as likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease as those who never take a supplement.
3) They wouldn’t lie to me, right?
Don’t believe the hype. Just like the claims made on the packaging of processed foods, supplement manufacturers will claim that their products do it all: boost immunity, fight cholesterol, improve memory. Continuous research shows most of these claims have little to no merit. Studies show that mega doses of some recently touted supplements such as folic acid and selenium may increase the risk of getting colorectal cancer and diabetes, respectively. But reaching those toxic levels is near impossible when eating food alone or even taking a standard multivitamin. So back to basics: more is not always better.
4) All right, so, I should give up supplements completely, right?
Not exactly. A standard multivitamin can be an insurance policy on your health, a great way to ensure you are covering all your bases, in case you are missing something from the food you eat. But, important to remember: A supplement does not replace a healthy lifestyle. Eating a variety of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein will ensure that you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Still wondering if a multivitamin is right for you? Talk to a dietitian! We can help you figure out if you really need it and, more importantly, if it poses any risk to your health. And always check with a doctor before adding a supplement to your routine, especially if you take any kind of regular medication.