Facts About Vitamins and Your Health

I have taken those chewable Flintstones vitamins ever since I was a kid. Not only do they taste great, but they supposedly give you all of the necessary vitamins and minerals that the average kid needs growing up. As I got older, I started taking two of them each day (on the advice of my doctor, who said that would basically make them the equivalent of one adult One-A-Day vitamin), and that has worked out well for me without any problems thus far.

I am one of the lucky ones though – too many people either can not or will not take the time necessary to figure out which vitamins and minerals they need to get through the day… and so the drift onwards, often in a state of medium-tier health, and they often don’t give it a second thought.

But the vitamins and nutrients that you fuel your body with are so key to how good your health is! So I want to take some time today to try and de-mystify the world of supplementation a bit. Read on to see if what you think you know about all things vitamin-related are true…

Fact: Vitamins don’t cancel out bad health habits.

There are so many different disease-causing culprits in our lives that one vitamin cannot protect against them all. Vitamins simply cannot significantly undo the toll that risk factors like smoking, excess alcohol, air pollution, obesity, and lack of physical activity take on our health. In fact, research suggests that some people may be more likely to put their health on the line when taking vitamins, because they believe the pills will shield them from harm.

Not only is it not entirely true that vitamins will shield you from ill health, but overdoing it can mean problems for your health as well. “Excesses of all nutrients, from water, to iron, to water-soluble B vitamins, can potentially cause toxicities,” says Dr. Norman Hord, PhD, MPH, RD, associate professor in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University. People who take vitamins and minerals in amounts above the established upper limits of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) may harm tissues where the vitamin is stored in their body. That’s why you shouldn’t take more than the recommended amount.

Fact: Megadoses are useless and possibly even harmful.

Taking too much of any one vitamin can sometimes cause more harm than good. Our bodies have individual requirements for each nutrient, and taking too much can sometimes cause problems. Taking too much calcium, for example, can cause kidney stones and may increase your risk for heart attacks. What’s more, some vitamins and minerals rely on the same mechanisms for absorption, so if you flood your body with one compound, you may interfere with the absorption of other nutrients.

Fact: What you put on your plate matters most.

Supplements are not a substitute for the nutrients found in whole foods. Many compounds in foods work synergistically to fend off disease. Whereas supplements only contain the one vitamin or mineral that the bottle says they do, real whole foods contain a range of healthy compounds.

Don’t be afraid to overdose on vitamins when you get them from food – as long as you’re eating a varied diet, it’s extremely difficult to OD on the vitamins and minerals you get from foods. However, exceeding your RDA is easy when you’re popping supplements.

Fact: You’re already getting enough of most of the key nutrients you need.

More than 90% of North Americans have the recommended levels of several essential nutrients (such as vitamins A, D and folate) in their bodies, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. Many common foods that we eat – for example, breakfast staples like cereal, milk, eggs, bread, and orange juice – may be fortified with a variety of vitamins, including folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, and niacin. Some foods are required by law to be fortified: since 1998, the FDA has mandated the addition of folic acid to many grain products, like flour and pasta, to ensure that women of childbearing age maintain adequate blood folate levels to prevent neural tube defects. Plus many manufacturers voluntarily fortify foods (think eggs or peanut butter with added omega-3 fatty acids) to make them more appealing to health-conscious consumers. This practice, which results in what are called functional foods, is now a $41-billion/year industry.

There are many cases where people actually are deficient in certain nutrients though, in which case vitamins can help fill in the nutritional gaps. Supplements may also be a good idea if you no longer eat certain food groups because of certain dietary regimens, such as vegetarianism or food allergies.

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