Should you take a Multivitamin? – The opinion of an amateur nutrition enthusiast
The short answer is probably, but not for the reasons we usually hear about. While there is convincing evidence that one can get better nutrition from food sources, most of us (i.e., me) don’t eat right.
Better nutrition from food sources?
The typical vitamin company reason that today’s food is somehow less nutritious because the soil is depleted does not hold water. Plants have specific requirements in the way of soil nutrients, sunlight and water. If plants don’t get enough of these things, growth is stunted and production is reduced — if the plant survives at all. If farmers were planting in depleted soil, they would be unable to produce enough of their crop to afford to stay in business. They know this, so they add back nutrients through cover crops and fertilizers. Soil management science is quite advanced. Think of all the advice and products they have just to make lawn grass look greener!
Why is food a better source?
We really should all attempt to get all the nutrients we need from food. If you make a study of nutrition, you’ll find that the basic nutrition required for survival is readily available if you eat adequate proportions of meat, dairy, whole grains, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. If you delve further into the realm of antioxidants, then what jumps out is that one needs fruit and vegetable coverage by color (green, dark yellow, red, purple) as well as foods like tea, beans, citrus, cruciferous vegetables, and sources of resveratrol, Omega 3 and 6. The complex interworking of multiple micronutrients in these foods does not appear to have been studied completely. We can at this point make a couple of observations:
- Vitamins give us a specific dosage of a specific nutrient, but not the entire nutritional value of the source food.
- We see the effects of the Mediterranean and Asian diets on longevity, and they’re getting nutrients from food versus supplements.
It also seems like real food sources make it much less likely that we’d consume too much of a nutrient – something easy to do by going overboard with a supplement. While most extra nutrients are simply excreted and result only in a waste of money, some have some ugly consequences (read about Vitamin D). In addition, they keep coming out with more micronutrients that they’ve identified, so who knows what great stuff is in food that they haven’t even turned into a pill yet?
So why do I take supplements?
I do just that: supplement what I think I’m missing from my diet:
- Vitamin D – I’m not outside enough to manufacture enough from sunshine and they’re now saying we should have more vitamin D than they thought before
- Omega 3 & 6 – Because I don’t eat enough from food sources
- Multivitamin with calcium – Except when I’m being particularly diligent in nutritious eating