Are you one of the 50% of the population in the United States who takes vitamins and health supplements on a daily basis? Do you really need to? Are they doing you more harm than good? Do you think they are a good form of insurance?
There is never going to be a substitute for fresh and colorful foods on a daily basis. In a perfect world we would all be eating our recommended doses of each and every food group each and every day. Fresh foods contain phytochemicals, micronutrients, fiber, and natural antioxidants that can never be replicated quite the same in a tablet. Interestingly, while it is impossible to consume toxic levels of antioxidants from real foods, this is easily achievable with mega-dose antioxidant supplements.
Sadly, it is estimated that only 25% of Americans achieve the recommended daily dietary requirements. For the other 75%, eating enough fresh fruits, vegetable, dairy, and whole grains can often be a real challenge. (The only food group that Americans as a group do manage to consume to the recommended requirement is the fat group, which most people are guilty of over consuming.)
What should you really be eating daily:
* 3 glasses of milk, or other source of calcium.
* 1 1/2 cups of fresh fruit
* 2 1/2 cups vegetables
* 6 ounces whole grains
* 5 ounces beans, meat, or some other form of protein
* maximum of 5 teaspoons of vegetable oil, such as olive or canola.
Those who could benefit from daily vitamin supplements include:
* Women planning on becoming pregnant in the near future are recommended to take folic acid and pre-natal vitamins. Pregnant and nursing mothers may also need supplements but should check with their health care provider first.
* Those whose diets are lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables, calcium, whole grains or protein.
* Those who consume too much alcohol.
* Those who have had some forms of gastric bypass weight loss surgery. (The removal of some parts of the stomach and bowel can reduce the absorption of nutrition from foods.)
* Those who have suffered from major illnesses and operations (check with your doctor first to ensure the supplements will not interact with your other medications.)
* Those who regularly skip meals.
* Those who exercise vigorously on a very regular basis.
* Those people who may exclude whole food groups from their diet, for example vegetarians or vegans.
* Anyone whose doctor says they should do so.
* Supplements should never be used as a substitute for foods.
* Some supplements can interact with other medications including the Pill, anti-depressants, heart medications, and blood thinners, to mention only a few. Be sure to talk to your doctor.
* When it comes to vitamins, bigger is not always better. Beware of mega doses. Research has shown that some vitamins and supplements including Vitamins A and E, selenium, copper, zinc, and iron, and antioxidants such as beta-carotene, may actually be harmful in large doses.
* Never exceed the recommended daily allowance per vitamin or mineral.
* Always check the expiry date. If there is no date on the label purchase another brand.
* Be leery of astonishing claims. Vitamins should be used to protect against dietary deficiencies only.
* Store your vitamins in a cool and dry place. Check whether or not they need to be stored in the refrigerator.
* Keep out of reach of children.
* Children should only be ever given vitamins specifically manufactured for children. Adult doses may well be unsuitable and harmful for a little person. Children have dramatically different dietary requirements to adults.
* Remember that in the US vitamin companies are not policed by the FDA, unless claims are made against a product. Yes, you read right, there has to be a complaint before these products are investigated. It can be a great idea to stick with well known and reputable manufacturers.
* If you are unsure, consult your doctor first.
Vitamins should be used as an insurance policy to ensure that essential vitamins and minerals are not lacking from your system. Vitamins and supplements can be beneficial for those who lead hectic lives and skip meals. However, supplements are never going to be better for you than a healthy well balanced diet. Care should be taken to never exceed the recommended daily dose, and at the time of publication, mega dose supplements have found to be harmful.