We are confronted with ads and reminders of our bodies’ needs for calcium, magnesium, vitamins D or B-complex at every turn. Vitamins take turns being in the spotlight. And then we are presented with a list of symptoms that vitamin insufficiencies can cause. What to take to prevent memory loss, joint pain, loss of energy, sleep, skin disorders, and the list goes on.
You generally eat a healthy diet, make sure you include food from each of the four food groups, and tend to steer away from all those junk foods with empty calories. You take the advice of your dietician and add flax to your oatmeal, pumpkin seeds to your salad, and chia seeds to your smoothies. The nutrition guidelines labels included on all food items contain breakdowns of the values to our daily requirements. So, are you really getting enough daily vitamins and minerals or do you need to include supplements?
Part of the answer to this depends on your age, health, genetics, and maybe even the colour of your skin and where you live. But we also need to consider the way our foods are grown and produced today and the amount of processing involved. Has modern agricultural practices resulted in a decline in food nutrition? Why is there such a drive to buy organic food?
Let’s begin with vitamins. Our bodies cannot produce them, we must get them from the foods we eat to obtain them—Vitamin D being the exception, as we need sunshine for that. If you’re living in an area where there is limited sunshine, you will want to take a vitamin pill. There are 13 vitamins, each with its’ own list of benefits, and side effects of mega-doses, and deficiencies.
For every story where taking a vitamin or mineral faithfully for years has brought a positive benefit, there can also be a negative side. For example, we are told to take more calcium as we age to prevent bone density loss. Studies have shown that calcium supplements are useless. Well not completely, they tend to cause more kidney stones!
But wait a minute. What about all those shelves of vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements on the shelves at your local pharmacy?
Dieticians recommend getting your daily vitamin and mineral requirements from food first. Food gives us the necessary fiber and fats we also need. Supplements can help, but they are called that for a reason. You shouldn’t rely on them. They are meant to fill in any gaps or deficiency in your diet. Many fat-soluble vitamins need to be taken on a full stomach to be absorbed properly.