Get your nutrients from food, not dietary supplements
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
Dietary supplements and protein shakes might be all the rage, but should Americans take extra vitamins to get the proper amount of daily nutrients?
The answer is no, most Americans don’t need to take supplements. But, shockingly, more than one-third of all Americans take multivitamins, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“A lot of my patients are surprised to learn that the supplements they’re taking aren’t always necessary. If they’re eating a well-rounded diet that includes fruits, veggies, meats and dairy, they’re usually throwing their money away by taking supplements,” said Dr. Michelle Glasgow, Primary Care Chief and Family Medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Spring Creek Medical Office.
“But there are some people who do benefit from supplements such as those who are on restrictive or special diets —vegetarians, vegans, dairy-free, and the like.”
That’s because these restrictive diets don’t give you all your daily requirements of vitamins and nutrients, suggests Dr. Glasgow.
Americans began taking multivitamins in the early 1940s, and in 2014 they accounted for $5.7 billion of all dietary supplement sales, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Total dietary supplement sales in the United States totaled about $36.7 billion in 2014.
Who should take supplements?
The most common vitamin deficiency in the U.S. is vitamin D due to Americans’ strict use of sunscreen, Glasgow said.
“Vitamin D is produced in our bodies through sun exposure and we are blocking this with the use of sunscreen, we do not produce the amount of Vitamin D we need,” she said. “You have to weigh Vitamin D deficiency with the effects of sunburns, though. It’s the lesser of two evils because you can take a supplement for Vitamin D if you’re body needs it.”
Most women and young girls could also benefit from taking calcium supplements, especially those who do not consume dairy products, she said.
“Older women tend to be at risk for osteoporosis (bone loss) and by loading up in our younger years we can help decrease this risk in the older years,” Glasgow said.
People on other restrictive diets like veganism or vegetarianism would benefit from a well-rounded daily multivitamin to hit those needed nutritional requirements. However, Glasgow warns of multivitamins that contain iron because too much iron in the body can be dangerous.
Daily fish oil is a safe, natural anti-inflammatory supplement that can help lower triglycerides, as well as increase hair and skin health, she said.
“We do not recommend most other supplements as they can be hard to digest causing kidney and liver problems and can interfere with other prescription medications, making chronic illness worse,” she said.
Weight loss supplements vs. eating habits
Some of the most dangerous supplements on the market are weight loss, muscle-building and testosterone enhancer supplements, which Glasgow said are being overused and can also result in dangerous kidney and liver problems. These supplements tend to fall short in producing their promised results and can be very expensive, she said.
“Weight loss supplements may result in short term loss of weight by suppressing appetites and increasing metabolism, but they are not safe to take long term and once you go off them — unless you’ve made drastic changes to your diet and exercise habits — the weight tends to come right back, plus a few additional pounds,” she said.
Rather than restricting diets and looking to supplements, Glasgow said Americans really need to focus on eating more fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.
Eating diets rich in these categories will provide more than enough vitamins and nutrients, eliminating the need for supplements, she said.
“Vitamins and nutrients from foods are taken into the human body at a greater rate and stored for future use much more effectively than vitamins and nutrients made in a lab and consumed in the form of supplements,” Glasgow said.
“Our body is made to process foods and extract from those foods the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Our bodies are not made to consume dense supplements and process them therefore causing issues like liver and kidney problems. It may sound obvious but eating a well-balanced diet is the miracle diet we’ve all been looking for.”
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