Do you really need multivitamins?
Whether it’s supplements, vitamins or protein shakes, you have to admit the concept is attractive: just take this pill or drink this powder, and you’ll be healthy. It’s not crazy to think that multivitamins are a necessary part of any healthy lifestyle. After all, we need vitamins and minerals – and who has time to keep track of everything from a to zinc?
But the truth is way more complicated. In some cases, vitamin supplements really do have benefits (and we’ll get to those in a bit). But for the vast majority of people, there is no quick fix for a healthier you. The fact is, it’s much healthier to get your vitamins and minerals from a balanced, nutritious diet – not from a pill.
Get your Vitamins from Food!
If you really think about it, this should come as no surprise. After all, real food not only packs the vitamins and minerals you need – it also comes with all kinds of healthy things your body needs to survive.
First up? Energy. Simply put, vitamin pills don’t give you the energy you need to go about your day. Energy comes from a mix of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. While vitamins can help your body convert these food sources into energy, they do not supply you with energy themselves.
Second, there are some nutrients you just can’t get from a pill. With a balanced diet of fruits and veggies, whole grains and heart-healthy fats, you’re not just getting vitamins and minerals…you’re also filling up on the fibre, carbohydrates and protein your body needs to function.
Finally, taking large amounts of some vitamins can be dangerous. Vitamin A, vitamin D, niacin, calcium, iron, and selenium have all been proven toxic in high doses, and even too much vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal problems. The good news? It’s pretty much impossible to OD on kale and carrots.
The bottom line? If you enjoy taking vitamins as part of a healthy lifestyle, and you know you aren’t exceeding the recommended doses, chances are it can do you no harm. But if you’re already following a balanced, nourishing diet – it’s pretty likely those vitamins aren’t doing you much additional good, either.
Supplements for Vegans
If you’re following a vegan diet, you probably already know that you’re an exception to this rule of thumb. While we are huge advocates for plant-based diets, the fact is it’s tricky to get enough of some vitamins and minerals, and there are probably some supplements you should be taking. Here’s a sample of some supplements to think about including:
This vitamin is crucial to heart health, producing red blood cells and preventing anemia – and unfortunately for vegans, it’s found almost exclusively in animal products. While some vegan-friendly foods are enriched with B12, such as many brands of cereals and nutritional yeast, it’s really hard to get your recommended dosage from fortified foods alone. So if you’re following a vegan diet and only want to take one supplement – this is the one you really need.
Let us start by saying that it’s a myth that you can only get calcium from dairy products. Dark green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy and collard greens, are also a great, vegan-friendly source of calcium. But unless you’re eating several cups of greens per day (and if you are, we salute you!), chances are you still aren’t getting quite enough of this bone-strengthening nutrient. So, if you’re following a vegan diet and feel like you might need a calcium supplement, it’s probably not a bad idea.
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is critical for maintaining healthy bones. And those of us stuck in snowy Canada probably aren’t getting enough from our (sadly) limited sunshine alone. Many vegan margarines, cereals and soy or rice milks are fortified with vitamin D – so you might already be getting what you need. Just check the label to find out. But if you’re not consuming much on a regular basis, you might want to pick up a supplement.
Getting enough iron is critical to producing red blood cells – so getting enough is vital for everyone (not just vegans!). Lucky for us, there are lots of great vegan iron sources, from dried beans and lentils to dark leafy greens and enriched cereals. But, plant-based sources of iron are a little harder to absorb, so vegans have to work a lot harder to get their recommended dose. To help your body absorb more iron, eat lots of vitamin C-rich foods – like citrus, strawberries and tomatoes – when you eat a plant-based iron source. And if you’re still worried you aren’t getting enough, an iron supplement can’t hurt.
Other Candidates for Vitamin Supplements
Aside from our vegan friends, there are a few other people that should strongly consider taking supplements from time to time. For example, we all have trouble absorbing certain vitamins as we get older, so after 50, a balanced diet is often no longer enough. And if you’re following a diet of 1600 calories or less (whether for weight loss or because of a low appetite), you should definitely speak to your doctor about adding some supplemental vitamins to your routine.
From folic acid during pregnancy to vitamin D for young children, there are times in most of our lives when you might need an extra vitamin or two. The crucial thing is to understand your needs, closely watch your diet and talk to your doctor about starting a supplement regime.
But at the end of the day, those most likely to take multivitamins and supplements are the health-conscious people who need them the least! At best, vitamins are an easy and reliable way to “top up” nutrients your diet might be lacking – especially if you’re sticking to plant-based foods. At worst, overdosing on some vitamins and minerals can be harmful to your health. And for the vast majority of us, there’s no convincing evidence that you’ll benefit from them at all.
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