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Eat, don't supplement your vitamins
read labels
Simply reading labels while your shopping will tell you a lot about the food you are considering buying and its nutritional values. - photo by Stock photo

Two types of vitamins

Vitamins are divided into two groups: water soluble and fat soluble.

Water soluble vitamins (vitamin B complex and vitamin C) need regular replacement in the body. These vitamins are not stored by the body and are frequently eliminated in urine. Because of that, the body requires a continuous supple of water soluble vitamins. This vitamin group is easily destroyed or washed out during food storage and preparation. To reduce loss, always refrigerate fresh produce and keep milk and grains away from strong light.

Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are stored for longer periods of time in the liver and fatty tissues. Fat soluble vitamins can pose a risk for toxicity when consumed in quantities above the recommended daily allowances. According to the University of Colorado, eating a normal, well-balanced diet, will not lead to toxicity in healthy people, but taking vitamins that contain mega-doses of A, D, E and K could be harmful.

Looking to boost their nutritional intake, thousands of Americans supplement their diets with healthy doses of vitamins, minerals and other nutritional supplements.

In fact according to, retail sales of vitamins and supplements in the United States is expected to reach 36.1 billion dollars by the year 2017.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a vitamin as an organic substance made by plants and animals. Minerals are defined as inorganic elements that come from soil and water and are absorbed by plants and animals. Together, they are part of the nutrients that your body needs to grow and develop normally.

For years, researchers have espoused the benefits of certain vitamins in aiding the immune system against colds, helping reduce cholesterol, improving cardiovascular health and enhancing nutritional deficiencies of a diet.

The human body is unable to produce certain minerals and vitamins; therefore, these nutrients must be absorbed through our food and daily diet.

According to the CDC, the best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods.

Cameron Wells, MPH, R.D., the acting director of nutrition education for the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Barnard Medical Center, said vitamins and supplements can provide an easy way to get essential nutrients you need, but she added it can be easy to get too much of them.

“It is always better to go straight to the source,” she said. “Focus on the healthful foods that are rich in the nutrients you are wanting to target. And as we should all know, you can’t fix a bad diet with vitamin supplements.”

Wells said too much of a good thing can be detrimental to your system.

“These symptoms and ill-effects will vary widely from acute toxicity, where a person is clearly in need of medical attention, to long-term damage that can happen over time,” she said. “One example of getting too much of a vitamin can be seen with excess amounts of iron and copper. Research shows a link between high levels of copper and iron and a possible increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s. And while more Alzheimer’s prevention research is needed, it’s best to use the precautionary principle and steer clear of multi-vitamins, dietary supplements, and foods with added metals that can lead to excess consumption. Check your water pipes, cookware, and prescription medications for hidden sources of iron and copper.”

Like many of the leading experts in diet and nutrition, Wells recommends a nutrient-packed diet consisting of a colorful variety of plant-based food sources, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

“A plant-based diet is great at delivering a wealth of nutrients while making it easy to cut cholesterol and minimize intake of sodium and saturated fats, which are often high in processed meats, and dairy products like cheese,” she said.

Even on a plant-based diet, Wells said there are a few supplements, like vitamin D and B-12 that are beneficial.

“We recommend that all adults and children take a daily multivitamin or a B-12 supplement of at least 5 micrograms per day. The recommended dietary allowance for adults is 2.4 micrograms per day, with increased requirements for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is always a good reminder that vitamin needs will vary for each person at various stages of your life,” she said.
Wells said the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee noted that, as a country, Americans are underconsuming vitamins A, C, D, and E, along with folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reports that the most healthful calcium sources are green, leafy vegetables and legumes, or “greens and beans” for short. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard and other greens were reported as being loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients. Calcium also can be found in fortified products like soy milk, orange juice and certain cereals.

Vitamin D controls your body’s use of calcium. About 15 minutes of sunlight on your skin each day normally produces all the vitamin D you need. The combination of calcium and vitamin D help produce strong bones.

Vitamin C is found in papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, pineapples, oranges, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe and cauliflower, to name a few food sources.

Vitamin A can be found in sweet potatoes; carrots; dark, leafy greens; winter squashes; lettuce; and a variety of tropical fruits.

Vitamin E foods include sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, avocado, peanuts, turnip greens, mustard greens, beet greens and asparagus.

Wells said nutrition is just one component in making sure your body readily absorbs the nutrients it needs.

“Make water your preferred beverage of choice, aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night, exercise for at least 120 minutes each week, and you’ll be on the fast track for habits that lead to optimal health and disease prevention,” she said.

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