Do we require vitamins for good health? The answer is “of course.” Vitamins are essential for good health but only in tiny amounts.
Do we need vitamin supplements in addition to what can be supplied by a varied balanced diet? The answer is yes in some cases and no in others.
Statistics show that approximately 160 million Americans take daily dietary supplements. Dr. Paul Coates, Director of the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health, reports “sales of all supplements, especially vitamins, have increased rapidly in the last 15 to 20 years.” In 2009, Americans spent $26.9 billion on all dietary supplements, and vitamins accounted for $1.9 billion, 34% of the total.
The benefits of vitamin supplementation for people who consume a varied healthy diet appear to be clear, the issue still remains controversial regarding supplement augmentation to the diet. Today the multivitamin may be promoted with the argument that vitamins benefit health, often placing marketing over science.
Unfortunately, the posture of many people is “If a little is good, then surely more is better.” More may not be better, and overdosing can cause serious conditions.
Vitamins should be treated like medicine, take them only if you know you have a deficiency. Your health care provider can perform laboratory tests to determine deficiency as well as overdose. Be aware that water soluble vitamins (B’s and C) are excreted in the urine when taken in quantities the body does not need. The fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are stored in the liver and in body fat and are eliminated much more slowly. Because of that, taking an inappropriate dose of these vitamins runs a higher risk of toxicity and health problems.
What has begun to happen as research more clearly defines harm, potential harm, benefit, hype or hope, is better scientific evaluations and recommendations for supplementation.
The National Academy of Sciences adopted the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) in 1997 to help people make more educated choices about vitamins and recommended daily intake requirements.
Until we have all of the facts, the best advice is to follow the DRI recommendations. Visit the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements at www.ods.od.nih.gov to view their recommendations.
Most of all, maximize vitamin intake from whole foods: leafy green vegetables for vitamin K; fish oils and egg yolks for vitamins D and A; yogurt and broccoli for vitamin C and many of the B vitamins. Remember, history reminds us that the original power of vitamin supplements was to augment what was lacking in the diet.
Food sources for vitamins
Vitamin A: RDA = 900 mcg
Mango, broccoli, carrots, spinach, beef liver, butternut squash, tomato juice, sweet potatoes
Vitamin B-1: RDA = 1.2 mg
Spinach, green peas, tomatoes, watermelon, sunflower seeds, lean ham, lean pork chops, soy milk
Vitamin B-2: RDA = 1.3 mg
Spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, eggs, milk, liver, and oysters, clams
Vitamin B-3: RDA = 16 mg
Spinach, potatoes, tomato juice, lean ground beef, chicken breasts, tuna, liver, shrimp
Vitamin B-5: RDA = 5.0 mg
Many common foods
Vitamin B-6: RDA = 1.3 mg
Bananas, tomato juice, broccoli, spinach, acorn squash, potatoes, rice, chicken breasts
Vitamin B-7: RDA = 30 ugm
Many common foods
Vitamin B-9: RDA = 400 ugm
Tomato juice, green beans, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, black-eyed peas, lentils; navy, pinto and garbanzo beans
Vitamin B-12: RDA = 2.4 ugm
Meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs
Vitamin C: RDA = 90 mg
Many fruits and vegetables; in addition to foods above: red bell peppers, kiwi, orange, strawberries (strawberries are very high in C)
Vitamin D: RDA = 5-10 ugm
Fortified milk products, egg yolk, liver, fatty fish.
Vitamin E: RDA = 15 mg
Nuts, oils, sunflower seeds, whole grains, wheat germ, spinach
Vitamin K: RDA = 120 ugm
Dark green leafy vegetables, especially kale, liver
RDA = Minimal amount per day to prevent deficiencies