Do I Need a Multivitamin?
It’s no secret that our busy lifestyles make eating a balanced diet challenging at best. And while getting off track in our healthy eating is sometimes unavoidable, there are things we can do to make sure our bodies are getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Generally, health experts agree that it’s best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat; however, taking a multivitamin has become an increasingly popular alternative way to ensure our bodies are properly taken care of.
But with new studies suggesting multivitamins may not be as useful as they claim to be, the question remains: who needs a multivitamin?
I eat a healthy diet; do I need a multivitamin?
While it is certainly possible for people to fulfill all their nutritional needs through food alone, doing it on a daily basis can often prove difficult. To make this point clearer, consider this: according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Pyramid Guide, adults need to consume at least two cups a day of fruits, plus two and half cups of vegetables (that means at least one serving at every meal and snack time).
We also need three servings of whole grains (note: we didn’t say whole wheat), as well as 1,000 plus milligrams of milk and/or dairy products, and moderate amounts of nuts and healthy oils – such as olive or canola oil. Of course, to ensure your body is getting all necessary nutrients, a variety of all these foods must be eaten. And don’t forget to stay in the proper calorie-range as well.
Considering all of these requirements, therefore, the warning from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that both adults and children are lacking in some essential nutrients, including vitamin E and calcium, magnesium and potassium seems hardly surprising. They also noted that adults are generally lacking in vitamin A and vitamin C.
When is taking a multivitamin essential?
Children, pregnant women, and people experiencing illness may have difficulty meeting their nutritional needs effectively, for a variety of reasons. In these circumstances it is often recommended that multivitamins be taken.
During pregnancy it is particularly important that women take additional vitamin supplements – particularly ones high in folic acid, as it has been shown to prevent a number of birth defects and promote healthy fetal development.
Multivitamins with lots of Vitamin A, vitamin C and can also be beneficial for older adults in helping to prevent age-related vision loss. This finding came out of a study following over 3,500 people taking 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta carotene, and 80 mg of zinc each day. Although the vitamins did not prevent cataracts, they reduced the risk of macular degeneration by 25%.
Postmenopausal women are also shown to be lacking in calcium and vitamin D, as these vitamins can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. In fact, both men and women over the age of 50 are encouraged to consume 1,200 mg of calcium every day and 400 IU of vitamin D. After the age of 70 the intake of vitamin D increases to 600 IU daily.
I don’t recognize some of the ingredients listed in my multivitamin; do I need these?
You may notice that certain multivitamins contain many listed ingredients that don’t show up in the Food Pyramid Guide, and for which there is no recommended daily value intake, such as lutein, lycopene and boron. Unfortunately, scientific evidence has not been conclusive as to whether or not these ingredients are useful – or even safe – for daily consumption.
Some have suggested that these ingredients may in fact be superfluous, and only added as a marketing tool in order to make one particular brand stick out amongst the rest. All we know for now is that such ingredients have no recommended daily value intake.
Are there any risks to taking multivitamins?
As with any medication, multivitamins can cause some potentially harmful side effects, as well as dangerous drug or food interactions, and therefore should only be taken under the recommendation of your medical professional. Before you take a multivitamin talk to your doctor about the following:
- Any known allergies you have to vitamins or any other drugs
- All medications you are currently taking – whether prescription or nonprescription – as well as any other vitamins.
- Whether or not you are pregnant, are trying to conceive, or are breastfeeding.
Finally, always remember that multivitamins are not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, which should include a balanced diet as well as regular physical exercise. Indeed, scientists are still unaware of all the nutrients our foods contain, making their consumption vital for living a truly healthy life.