Americans are always looking for shortcuts.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 50% of Americans take some type of vitamin supplementation. If you ask most of them what each vitamin and mineral does, they wouldn’t be able to tell you; they just know they “need” it. As a result, the multivitamin industry is huge and continues to grow. From 2000 to 2017, the sales of vitamins jumped from $17 billion to over $36 billion.
I know healthy individuals who eat a well-balanced diet and still take a multivitamin “as insurance.” Why not, though? If you have the money, you might as well spend it on your own health. But does a multivitamin help as much as people think they do?
Here are some reasons why a multivitamin isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.
So how did it get to the point where almost everyone is taking a multivitamin? In 1912, scientists learned that food contained more than just protein, carbs and fats. Upon this discovery, supplements started appearing on shelves around 1916. These were just individual vitamins and minerals meant to target one condition. It wasn’t until 1941 that Franklin D. Roosevelt created the National Nutrition Conference for Defense. This group recommended Americans take at least six vitamins and two minerals. Finally, the first once-daily multivitamin was created in 1943; the rest is history.
You eat food, right? There’s a good chance you get most of your nutrients from the food you already eat. You’ll be surprised to hear that all these nutrients aren’t that hard to find in everyday food. For example, do you consume dairy, fish, vegetable oil, nuts and greens on a weekly basis? Do you go outside for at least 10 minutes every day? If you answered yes, then you already get plenty of fat-soluble vitamins. All of these foods contain A, D, E and K. Since these vitamins are stored in the body, you’re definitely covered. So this eliminates the need for supplementing your fat-soluble vitamins.
What about your B vitamins? Do you consume fortified cereals, whole grains, starchy veggies, beef, poultry, fish, greens or fruit on a daily basis? If you eat more than one of these food groups above a day, then you’re getting plenty of B vitamins and your risk of a deficiency is incredibly low. Most foods come jam-packed with tons of B vitamins — just look at your food labels.
If you do decide to take multivitamins, it’s good to know that some minerals and vitamins compete for absorption. This reduces the actual amount you take in and end up passing.
For instance, magnesium and calcium are both usually taken in high doses compared to other minerals (several hundred milligrams compared to a few milligrams). If taken, these minerals should be consumed at different times of the day.
It’s also best to maintain the amount of zinc you consume as high doses of zinc have been shown to cause copper deficiencies.
Lastly, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) when taken together can compete for absorption with each other. They are also absorbed much better when taken with a meal containing fat.
However, there are some groups who may struggle with getting certain vitamins and minerals in and therefore need multivitamins. In these cases, supplementation of a single nutrient may be something to consider. Here are some examples:
People are too quick to look for shortcuts in life. People survived before multivitamins existed and will continue to survive. Before considering buying a multivitamin/mineral supplement, consider these points:
My overall opinion is you don’t need a multivitamin/mineral supplement, even as insurance. In some cases, you may be doing more harm than good. I ask you to check the list of foods above and try to eat these foods on a weekly basis.
About the Author
AFM Ambassador Billy Bosco is an Austin-based personal trainer who sells his own fitness supplements. The world is full of deceptive marketing and fast-track approaches to health. It’s his mission to cut through this and help everyone become realistically fit.