Are vitamins necessary?

. June 19, 2014.
Assortment of vitamin pills

Supplements can fill holes in modern diets

Vitamins and dietary supplements are a $30 billion industry and about 50 percent of all adults consume at least one supplement daily, according to numerous surveys. But are supplements necessary for people who eat a balanced diet? Malnutrition in America is caused by a variety of factors, not just a poor balance of nutrition but also by the ramifications of commercial farming, chemical usage, genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) foods, and food processing. Long before foods reach our dinner tables, they are stripped of valuable nutrients. Most soils today have only a third of the topsoil components that our grandparents used in growing healthy foods. We rely on the chemical industry to produce unnatural supplements to stimulate plants in an effort to rebuild their nutrition. Our plants may look healthy but, in reality, our foods — including the organic produce—are losing nutritional value. Not only do we find a lack of nutrition in chemically fertilized foods, but we also find chemical residues, used during the growing cycle, that can cause health problems such as cancer, childhood immune disorders, nervous system problems and hyperactivity. Genetically engineered food has been allowed by the federal Food and Drug Administration without sufficient scientific scrutiny as to what these changes do to the nutritional values.

Impact of food processing

Another factor affecting nutritional values is food processing. Many foods are processed in ways that remove nutrients to increase shelf life, reduce fat, or simply for the taste. The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of 50 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein, and 35 percent fat. Only 8 percent of the American diet consists of fruits and vegetables. According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Standard American Diet consists of:

  • 21 percent meat, eggs and nuts
  • 9 percent dairy products
  • 24 percent flour and cereal
  • 23 percent added fats and oils
  • 14 percent sweets

Few follow the guidelines

Although it is widely known that physical activity, a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a proper weight result in healthy lives, studies show that only a small proportion of older adults follow these guidelines. So, where are you getting your vitamins? Even your doctor may tell you that if you are eating a balanced diet perhaps you don’t need vitamins and minerals. Examples of how supplements can help: Magnesium lowers heart attack risk; vitamin D3 reduces ear infections and enhances immune cells; vitamins B6 and B12 and folic acid help avert Alzheimer’s disease, and Vitamin K2 helps prevent bone fractures. The decision is yours whether to supplement your diet and lifestyle with vitamins and minerals. If you do, please consult a healthcare professional. Purchase well-known brands from a reputable store. Unknown, inexpensive brands lack quality and may not contain what it says on the label.

For more information:

www.hsph.harvard.edu/eat/vitamins www.mnn.com/health/fitness

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