Most of us have that health-conscious friend who lives by their strict regimen of pills and supplements to keep themselves healthy. Some of us also know that person who doesn’t eat the healthiest of diets but relies on a handful of vitamins to make up for all the nutrients they’re missing out on.
Considering how an individual’s diet influences the amount and quality of vitamins they’re receiving, I’ve been wondering how beneficial vitamin supplements really are in regards to immune function and an individual’s overall health, especially with the cold and flu season approaching in the spring.
When I lived in the dorms freshman year, I was absolutely paranoid about getting sick. When one person on my floor came down with a cold, I’d immediately start taking my go-to vitamin C and zinc pills, drench my hands in Purell, and clean my entire room with Lysol wipes, in fear that I too would contract some kind of sickness. Fortunately, I did a decent job avoiding some of the sickness going around, but there were several times that year where I’d be in bed for a week with a brutal cold. How could my daily multivitamins and emergency vitamin C and zinc pills let me down?
Turns out, supplements aren’t the answer to preventing colds and other illnesses. In fact, some of the vitamins and minerals people consume on a day-to-day basis don’t always bolster the extravagant health claims they make. For example, researchers have found that the role of vitamin C in the prevention and treatment of colds is entirely controversial, yet dietary supplement companies like Emergen-C continue to market vitamin C powders that claim to boost your energy and your overall health. By falling for these health claims, we’re failing to recognize that our health isn’t determined by some magical formula of supplements.
According to the American Heart Association, the “big power is on the plate, not in a pill.” I realized I was getting sick because I was missing the bigger picture—vitamins are supplements because they are there to add to your diet, not completely replace the nutrients you can find in a balanced meal. I might have been taking my multivitamins, but my overall diet was lacking. I was replacing my lunches with protein shakes and made a post-dinner trip to Bear Market in Unit 3 nearly every night to satisfy my sweet tooth with sugary treats. Essentially, I wasn’t receiving enough nutrients from my diet, and my multivitamin wasn’t picking up the slack. It was at that moment I decided to quit being a supplement junky and turn to whole foods to get my nutrient needs. I still take a multivitamin to fill in small nutrient gaps, but I’ve made some dietary tweaks to make sure I include all parts of a healthy meal.
With the cold and flu season on the horizon, make sure you’re getting what you need out of your meals to help your body’s defense system. Here are some tips provided by the American Dietetic Association to guide your vitamin and mineral selection:
- Think nutritious food first, and then supplement the gaps. Start by filling your grocery cart with a variety of nourishing, nutrient-rich foods. Use the federal government’s My Plate nutrition guide to help make sure your meals and snacks include all the parts of a healthy meal.
- Take stock of your diet habits. Evaluate what is missing in your diet. Are there entire food groups you avoid? Is iceberg lettuce the only vegetable you eat? If so, learn about the key nutrients in the missing food groups, and choose a supplement to help meet those needs.
- When in doubt, a daily multivitamin is a safer bet than a cocktail of individual supplements that can exceed the safe upper limits of the recommended intake for any nutrient.
- Most adults and children don’t get enough calcium, vitamin D, or potassium according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Potassium-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat, are the best ways to fill in potassium gaps.
- Vitamin Supplements: Healthy or Hoax? from the American Heart Association <https://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Vitamin-Supplements-Healthy-or-Hoax_UCM_432104_Article.jsp>
- What Vitamins and Supplements Can and Can’t Do from WebMD by WebMD, LLC. <http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrition-vitamins-11/help-vitamin-supplement?page=2>
- Multivitamins: Doctors Say Stop Taking Them from Time Health & Family by Time Inc <http://healthland.time.com/2013/12/17/docs-say-stop-taking-multivitamins/>
Article by Mikkel-Ane Stipe
Feature Image Source: Today Show