On the back of any official nutrition label– below the federally required information about calories, fat, sodium and sugar– are a list of vitamins and minerals that the food contains, as well as their Daily Recommended Amounts.
Vitamins and minerals are essential elements that our bodies require to develop and function. The more recognizable vitamins are the “letter” vitamins—Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K. Other common vitamins are called “B Vitamins”—thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxal, cobalamin, biotin, and folic acid.
The body also needs essential minerals to survive—calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride manganese and selenium. It’s a tall order for any single food we eat to provide us with all the vitamins and minerals our body needs on a daily basis. That’s why many people turn to a daily multivitamin supplement.
What Vitamins Do You Need?
Essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients are best found in the foods we eat every day. In addition to well-known needed vitamins like Vitamin C, calcium iron, magnesium and potassium, the body needs:
• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin B12
• Folic acid or folate
• Pantothenic Acid
• Vitamin A
• Vitamin E
• Vitamin K
• Vitamin D2 and D3
What types of multivitamins are on the market?
Most multivitamins on the market today contain most, if not all, of the vitamins and minerals listed above in different amounts and strengths. Most vitamins on the market contain well over 100% of the Daily Value (DV) of any vitamin or mineral. Some vitamins supplements are fortified with three or four times the recommended Daily Value amount, and as such are labeled “super” or “fortified” vitamins.
Multivitamins come in many different forms and are marketed toward many different age and gender groups. In addition to prenatal vitamins that are marketed toward pregnant women, almost every age group –including toddlers, young children, teens, adults, and seniors.
In addition, sometimes it may be dangerous to consume too much of any particular vitamin. Like in the case of Vitamin A—excess beta-carotene can cause birth defects in pregnant women. Because multivitamins and supplements are not heavily regulated in the United States, manufacturers are free to choose which vitamins and minerals to put in their products—as well as their amounts. Megadoses or supervitamins can interact with some medications, causing harmful effects.
Are Multivitamins necessary?
Most experts agree that normal, healthy adults who eat a balanced diet have no need for a multivitamin. Taking a daily multivitamin doesn’t pose much of a risk for most people, but they often use it as an insurance policy for a bad diet.
Most physicians agree that eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly can do far more good for vitamin and mineral levels than an inactive lifestyle with a daily multivitamin. Studies have shown that multivitamins don’t reduce the risk for any particular disease, or prevent an early death. Some vitamins may even cause more harm than good, with Vitamin A leading to increased birth defects in pregnancies. Food is still the best source of vitamin and nutrients for our bodies.
How to eat your vitamins
If most people use multivitamins as “insurance” against bad eating habits, then improving diets may go a long way in providing essential vitamins and nutrients to your body. The foods we eat contain varying amounts of all the vitamins and minerals a body requires, so take advantage of this easy and delicious way to get all of your vitamins and minerals.
• Make most of your meal (half of your plate) vegetables and fruits. Include varying colors—eat the rainbow! Eat potatoes in moderation.
• Put whole grains on ¼ of your plate. Whole or ancient grains like whole wheat, barely, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, brown rice and whole wheat pasta have a better effect on blood sugar than their white rice or white flour counterparts.
• Add lean protein to the other ¼ of your plate. Protein can come in many different forms, including fish, chicken, beans and nuts. Limit red meat and avoid processed meats like bacon.
• Consume healthy oils in moderation. Healthy oils like olive oil, canola oil, soy oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and peanut oil are best consumed in moderation, but completely avoid partially hydrogenated oils like vegetable oil.
• Don’t drink your calories. Stick to water, coffee, and unsweet tea. Limit juice or soda to one small glass per day. Limit milk and dairy products.
• Stay active! An important balancing act, staying moderately active can regulate blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar. This contributes to adequate absorption of the vitamins and minerals we eat.
Who does need a multivitamin?
While the majority of people don’t need a vitamin supplement to receive all of their required nutrients, such supplements do exist and are helpful for the groups of people that actually need vitamin assistance. Most of the United States population is deficient in Vitamin D, so Vitamin D supplements are often sold over the counter or prescribed by doctors in a weekly dose. The other groups of people who need vitamins are:
• People who are on special diets and need nutrition supplementation
• People who have had certain medical or surgical procedures
• People who have vitamin deficiencies like iron or Vitamin D
• Older people who have a hard time getting their daily vitamin needs from their food
The vitamin industry is a multi-billion dollar business, but unless a doctor tells you that you need nutritional supplementation, you most likely aren’t helping yourself as much as you think by taking one. Nothing much will be harmed by taking a multivitamin if you keep a close eye on overconsuming certain vitamins, but there is much to be gained by eating a balanced, healthy diet full of produce, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.