What are vitamins and minerals? That is an easy question because they are simply substances found in the foods we eat that are needed for our bodies to grow, develop and function properly. Knowing this, as well as having access to the lists of our RDI’s (recommended daily intake), shouldn’t this tell you enough about what type of daily multi-vitamin you should choose? Or whether you should even be taking one? In our society it is just not that simple. Take the book store for instance, there are shelves upon shelves of books advising us to take this and not that based on so many aspects of our lives and lifestyles. Many of these books are written based on personal experience and not scientific evidence so it likely will not be for everybody (or anybody).
A billion dollar industry: dietary supplementation. Is it because we think that more is better? Well, sure, if you are using this mantra when it comes to fruits and vegetables. So where should you begin? Should you ask your doctor or talk to the local nutrition store clerk? Should you purchase online or from your doctors office? I may not be able to answer all the questions, but I hope this can serve as a beginning point towards your personal best choice.
After each of my children were born I was told that my children needed to be taking a vitamin supplement. Considering I was a full time nursing mother and eating quite well before, during and after the birth of my children (not to mention being well educated in the field of dietetics) I chose to opt out of supplementation. Although, by the time my second child was 2, our newly sought out and current pediatrician, introduced us to the supplement we now use daily. My initial reaction had been quite similar to when I was told by the previous pediatrician, but due to my personal requirements in a supplement of any type and the fact that I could see I had a selective eater on my hands, I felt it was surely something we could all benefit from.
Questions to ask when choosing a daily vitamin:
- Is it whole-food based? Are the ingredients coming from food or synthetic forms of the nutrients? Can you decipher amongst the jargon?
- Is it free of artificial additives of any type?
- Are the ingredients non-gmo and organic?
- Is there research on the product itself? Is it getting into my body, blood stream and working as opposed to exiting in a form such as when it went into my mouth?
- What is the labeling saying about the product? Is it safe? Does it contain what it says? Can I be sure it is not tainted in any way? And what about the label itself? Is it a supplement label or a nutrition label?
Did you know that a label with a Nutrition Facts panel is a food label?
What about other experts? What do they look for?
Not too long ago I had the pleasure of attending a lecture that one of my favorite pediatricians had offered. Dr. William Sears simply expressed that we need to get our nutrients from food first, then find a supplement that can offer added insurance of what may be lacking in our food intake. Sounds logical to me. Dr. David Katz has been cited many times regarding that supplementation is not the cure-all, but it may help. He also recommends whole-food based supplementation but cautions you to still take care of other aspects of your life such as eating well and being active, just as he has clearly stated in his recent book. Yet again, this seems logical as well. So why are we still so confused?
As a registered dietitian, I have been asked, “Should I be taking a daily multi-vitamin?” Typically my answer falls amongst the area of, “How many fruits and veggies are eating everyday?” Or even something like this, “Are you getting a variety or simply sticking with the same old spinach, apples, bananas and broccoli?” Take a good look at your daily food intake over the course of a week and ask yourself a few questions:
- Am I drinking half my body weight, (in ounces) of water, daily? So for a 130lb person that would be at least 65oz of water. (A vital part of our diet that helps in the transport of nutrients).
- Am I not exceeding the daily limits of alcohol? (Too much can lead to nutrient deficiencies).
- Am I limiting myself on the amount of caffeinated beverages? (Why? Because too much caffeine can have an effect on our nutrient absorption).
- Am I eating enough omega-3 fats? (Simply, we need good fats to use fats).
- Am I getting the recommended amount of sunlight? (Think vitamin D here).
- And the clincher: Am I eating the recommended daily servings of 7-9 fruits and vegetables, and a variety of them as well. (We won’t even get into the subject of organic vs. non and the idea that our soils are greatly depleted, leaving our food less rich in nutrients in comparison to our great ancestors).
If any of these questions are answered negatively, then it may be time for you to consider supplementation. If you are pregnant, this opens a whole new door into supplementation for which you should speak to your physician as well as a dietitian who specializes in women’s health. There are concerns such as pregnancy and bone density that need to be taken into consideration. In my personal and professional opinion, I feel that a woman is in such high demand on a daily basis (especially moms, right?) that she needs to amp up the volume of fresh fruits and veggies to help keep her healthy and more often than not, we just do not take the time to eat a nutrient dense meal. Perfect scenario for a superb form of supplementation. Even still, there are some physicians who are beginning to question supplementation due the fact that synthetic blends and isolated nutrients may be doing more harm than good (key word: synthetic and isolated).
Food for thought: Did you know that too much isolated Vitamin A in a women’s diet while pregnant can cause birth defects and complications? Should we just eat more orange foods?
What about our children?
Again, I feel it is necessary for you to talk to your pediatrician first and then head to a dietitian who can help you determine their needs based on a thorough food intake analysis. Considering that there are many parents struggling with not only selective eaters (myself included) but many food sensitivities and allergies, it is likely a good idea to find a high quality whole-food based supplement for your children.
An amazing woman I have been watching for a few years now, Kris Carr, has a great video with her treating physician. Now, I know she is battling a whole different story with cancer, and it is not kid specific, but they touch on the subject in similar ways as mentioned above. You can check that out here. Her physician also points out that we are in a toxic world and need the supplementation to assist our bodily functions in running smoothly.
Ok, so maybe these are not five things to ask, but it is such a broad subject and there are many things to take into consideration. Are you still confused or maybe just concerned? Speak with a registered dietitian and you will be advised based on your food intake as well as your overall lifestyle. We are all individuals and there are truly so many aspects that can be taken into account. In the end, its more important to first eat a variety of wholesome, fresh foods and then cinch it together with a reputable, whole-food based supplementation.
With such a laundry list of resources and many different avenues that can be taken with this subject, here is just a glimpse of my readings due to this article. And please pass on any other great finds you may have!
Great clip from Dr. Sears regarding supplementation
Are synthetic forms of vitamins/minerals ok?
Dr. Joel Fuhrman and supplementation
Joy Bauer and children’s vitamins
Food Matters covers a lot of great information
Dr. David Katz and multivitamins
Kris Karr and multivitamins
The only daily Jackie Vega, RDN will use