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  • Susie Csorsz Brown

Vitamins: Villains or vital?

Some believe that vitamins are literally the best thing since sliced bread, and that the best thing you can do for yourself -besides get your 8 hours of proper sleep -- is to find a well-balanced multi-vitamin that suits your life needs. Others believe that they are not only useless, but a waste of money and potentially dangerous. So ... is there a happy middle ground?

Okay, let’s preface all of this with this: in a perfect world, you and your family eat a variety of different colored, minimally processed foods that are mostly plant-based with a good selection of high-quality meats every other day or so. You get plenty of fluid (read: water) and you don't drink too many caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Life is great. In the real world, we know that not everyone's diet looks like that. We know that there is a not-too-small portion of children who subsist on beige foods with a helping or two of Mac and cheese (from the box, powdered cheese, thank you very much) every once in a while. We know that others forgo meat completely and neglect to balance their vegetable proteins. Still others drink too much, or eat on-the-go foods running from one take-away joint to the next drive-thru to the next CVS store. Fact of the matter is, though we may all INTEND to eat healthfully, it does not always happen. And that is okay, too.


Couple of thoughts:

Generally, Americans fall short on fruit and veg intake. I'm not sure why, as those are my by-far favorite food groups, but ... it is what it is. Fruit and veg - in their unprocessed forms - are powerhouses of all types of vitamins and minerals; the deeper the color of the fruit/veg, the higher the concentration of nutrients. But if you aren't eating them, beating yourself up over it isn't going to help the situation. Is popping a multivitamin as good as eating a mixed salad with a side of berries and watermelon? No. Is it better than nothing? Well, it depends on the multivitamin, but ... probably. Is it going to fix your nutritional intake? Only in the very short-term. Taking a multi does NOT give you a free pass to eat like a teenager day-in, day-out. But it does help a bit.

Just because you take a multi, you will not become Superman. You will not be immune to diseases and infections. Will it cure cancer and heart disease? Probably not. But. Studies have show that individuals who make the decision to take action and regularly take a multi-vitamin on average have more healthy behaviors and make healthier decisions throughout the day.

One multi (or whatever the dosage is on the label) is good. That does not mean that three or five or more are better. Vitamins, like all medicines, can be overdosed on. Some vitamins build up in your tissues, and too much can lead to toxicity. Especially true for the vitamins that are fat-soluble or can build up levels in your tissues, such as vitamin A or E. Others, such as vitamin C don't build up, but can cause other symptoms like nausea. Think about the supplements you might be taking, and pay attention to the amounts listed. A super high dose supplement is not necessarily going to be worth the money or the negative effect on your body. If you are deficient, it is important to see a nutritionist or dietician before self-medicating; while not regulated like other medicines, vitamin and mineral supplements and their high or low doses can have very serious impacts on your body and health.

To further complicate the math equation, the food industry has fortified (which means they've added vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to the foods that are not necessarily present to begin with or were potentially removed during processing) so many of the foods we eat regularly, making it nearly impossible to know how much of various vitamins and minerals we are actually consuming. You may take one daily multi-vitamin supplement and then if you eat breakfast cereal with milk, grab a granola bar for a snack and eat fortified grain or pasta for dinner, and you've tripled the recommended dosing without even knowing. This might be the best time for me to hop on my soapbox and remind you: the less processed your foods are, the closer they are as they appear in nature, the less meddling humans have had in it's production/packaging, the better. Ma Nature has done an amazing job providing you with foods brimming with the nutrients you need; if you eat a varied, colorful diet, drink water in appropriate amounts, then you will consume the vitamins and minerals you need.

During different periods of your life (especially any with intense growth periods such as childhood or teenage years, during pregnancy or breast-feeding or if you are super active or following a diet that might eliminate a food group, like vegetarianism), your vitamin and mineral needs are different. Makes sense, right? Be sure to address these varied needs with appropriate changes in your diet and diet support. Kids, too, often put themselves on rather restrictive diets (read: are super selective in their approved food intake list), further exacerbating the need for nutrition support. I give my kiddos a multi not because they don’t eat well but because the assurance that this will further enhance their nutrition profile, helping them to grow as best as they can.

Sometimes, life situations may also exacerbate particular health issues that would not otherwise be issues necessitating additional vitamins or minerals. For example, we live overseas, and the vast majority of our drinking water is either from a distiller or bottled which means our fluoride intake is minimal at best. The boys have been taking fluoride supplements since we have been overseas, but recently, I had to start as well. Weird, I know, a grown up needing extra fluoride, but thanks to the wear-and-tear of braces in my early twenties, plus three pregnancies (fetuses will take pretty much everything out of a mom’s body!), and then many years of little to no fluoride except in my toothpaste and literally one of my teeth fell apart! I know, right! So the dentist suggested we try to strengthen my teeth with extra fluoride, and … we’ll see how it goes. So … life situations.

Honestly, we all – all five in my family – take different brands of multis. There is not one brand, not one formula, that will fit every person’s needs. Yes, you have to do a bit of homework to find the one(s) that best suit your needs. Don’t believe the guy at the Vitamin Store or GNC, either (working on commissions can color one’s opinion). If you have questions about what your or your family’s needs might be, talk to a qualified dietician or nutritionist. I am certain every doctor is very knowledgeable and capable, but they generally don’t have as strong of a nutrition education as one who specializes in the subject.

One last thought: when selecting your vitamins, know that they are not candy. Please don’t pick one because they taste good; pick them because they have the dosing and make-up that suit your needs, and you will take them (yes, I know if they taste awful, you won’t take them either). Gummies generally are not going to give you a huge bang for your buck. Just saying: if they look like candy, and taste like candy... I think you know where I’m headed with this. Why not just eat candy then?

So. Lots to think about here apropos the vitamin world. Should you or should you? Up to you, obviously. If you decide to take a multi, please do some homework to find the best one for you and for your family.

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