Health Tip: Are Vitamin Supplements Worthwhile or Not?

February 16, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- You may be wondering at this point whether to toss those vitamins into your mouth or into the trash. That's not surprising since several recent reports have called the value of vitamins into question, leaving people to wonder if it's time to ditch their supplements all together.

"People are so confused," says Elisabetta Politi, the nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. "But vitamins are like insurance, and there's no evidence that taking them is harmful."

"While vitamins are not meant to be magic bullets of prevention, most Americans have poor eating habits and don't get the daily recommended allowance of most vitamins and minerals," Politi adds. "That's why we continue to recommend a well-balanced multi-vitamin."

Multi-vitamins fortified with 800-1,000 international units (iu) of vitamin D are even better. "We know about 50 percent of Americans don't get enough vitamin D," says Politi. That's a problem because low levels of this particular vitamin have been linked to osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, colon cancer, and gingivitis, as well as immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type 1 diabetes.

However, vitamins cost money, and in this economy, with everyone looking to save their pennies, you can easily cut the expense and the daily pill popping. All you have to do is maintain a healthy diet. Here's how:

• Eat at least five servings of vegetables and fruits every day.
• Frozen vegetables are fine but fresh are even better (and possibly cheaper) when locally produced. Visit a local farmer's market, join a local co-op or better yet, start a community garden in your area to get the most bang for your buck.
• Sweet vegetables like corn, carrots, yams and fruits reduce your cravings for sweets, while dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and collard greens are packed with minerals like iron, potassium, zinc and calcium. Bright, deep-colored fruits contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants too. "All of these are really important if you want to get your vitamins and minerals from foods rather than a pill," she says.
• Aim for three servings a day of low-fat dairy products, which are the best sources of calcium. One serving equals one cup of milk, one cup of yogurt or about an ounce of low-fat cheese.
• Make every attempt to balance your caloric intake with your caloric expenditure. Its the only way you'll be able to either maintain your current weight or even lose some of the extra pounds you've been holding on to.

"The bottom line is if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, your diet will provide you with the right mix of carbohydrate, fiber and healthy fats," she says.

Even with the best intentions, however, you may still need a multi-vitamin if you're:

• a poor or picky eater
• a vegetarian, especially vegan who avoid animal products like milk, cheese and eggs
• pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breast-feeding woman
• following a restricted calorie diet
• allergic to a particular food or have a medical condition that affects how your body absorbs or uses food, or you've undergone surgery on your digest tract.

Politi says it's important to check your multi-vitamin's nutritional value, making sure it's between 50-200 percent for each ingredient. "If, for example, it has 100 percent of vitamin A, then you know that it contains the recommended daily amount," she says. Also, take your supplement with your main meal of the day to enhance absorption. And, be sure to look at the expiration date. "Just like medicines, vitamin supplements expire and some of their biological properties can be lost or diminished."

Provided by Duke University Health System

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4 comments

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DGBEACH
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2009
So how much vitamin-D is there in a Big Mac? Cause 10's of millions of Americans will end up eating that way before any vegetables pass through their lips.
The last time I looked it was cheaper to buy a Big Mac trio than to buy all the ingredients for a real healthy meal (at least in the winter months), and THAT is where we should be focusing our efforts.The price of healthy food must be brought down, through gov't subsidies for the farmers, and the population must be taught how to eat properly.
The savings in health-care costs and increased productivity will more than make up for the cost of the subsidies.
A healthy population is a happy and prosperous one.
Soylent
not rated yet Feb 17, 2009
So how much vitamin-D is there in a Big Mac? Cause 10's of millions of Americans will end up eating that way before any vegetables pass through their lips.


They can always get their vitamin D from milkshakes and icecream.

Or you could stop trying to suffuse garbage with vitamins to create some illusion of it being a reasonable thing to eat every day and eat proper food.

The last time I looked it was cheaper to buy a Big Mac trio than to buy all the ingredients for a real healthy meal (at least in the winter months), and THAT is where we should be focusing our efforts.


Last time I checked I got ~3 pounds of frozen mixed veggies(peas, corn, carrots and green beans) for the price of one big mac(no drink or fries).
deatopmg
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2009
@soylent
the vitamin D in "fortified" milk is not a form of D (D2) that animals (any and all) can utilize properly. So it is essential that we get plenty of sun exposure or vitamin D3 supplements (many times 1000 iu) in our food. Whoppers and big Macs seem like a good place to start. Folic acid fortification works, water fluoridation clearly doesn't, in spite of the hype and hysteria.
DGBEACH
not rated yet Feb 18, 2009

Last time I checked I got ~3 pounds of frozen mixed veggies(peas, corn, carrots and green beans) for the price of one big mac(no drink or fries)


Yes a bag of frozen vegetables IS cheaper...but THAT can hardly be considered as being a healthier meal. Our bodies require more than that.
And once you factor in the electricity to warm up those frozen vegetables (and hopefully something else with some protein in it), and then heat up the water to wash the pot you cooked them in and the dishes they were eaten from, and then add the cost of the meat (or whatever) you added, you end up spending more money.

The big restaurant (term used loosely) chains are able to produce this "food" much cheaper than we can, because of the sheer volumes of produce which they buy.

However, if we as a civilization would place more emphasis on our well being, fully realizing the importance of staying healthy, then many of the world's woes would be alleviated.
How many wars have been started and maintained out of desperation to feed a population (Gaza as an example)?
Let's just hope that we, as a civilization, will find the strength to put aside our petty differences, and start to focus more on keeping each other alive!

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