Do I need to take vitamins?

vitaminsWhen it comes to eating healthy, sometimes we want shortcuts. We want things fast and easy and may look for quick solutions to get a balanced diet.

Vitamins are compounds that our body can’t manufacture by ourselves. We need these nutrients from an outside source, whether it be food or pill form. Vitamins may be seen by some as a quick-fix for poor nutrition.

It takes effort to have the proper balance of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and dairy that our body needs. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health is pushing the “My Plate” to help define healthy diet and help making eating easier to achieve.

“If we are eating a balanced diet, our foods will generally have adequate amounts of vitamins,” says Dr. Terry Rascoe, family physician at the Scott & White Northside Clinic in Temple, Texas.

He says that there is a tendency, however, to take something healthy and try to turn it into pill form for a quick solution. For example, eating green leafy vegetables is important for our body and instead of eating greens, we opt for them in pill form. This can give us a fall sense of security.

“While vitamin pills certainly can be helpful, I would always try to default to food substances that our bodies are built to digest,” says Dr. Rascoe.

Benefit of Food Over Vitamins

As we strive to eat healthy, vitamins can be there to supplement an already healthy diet. Vitamins, instead of being a replacement, can fine-tune a person’s overall health and well-being.

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Here are a few reasons to opt for food over the vitamin pills:

  • Our bodies are designed to eat and process foods
  • Pills tend to focus on only key ingredients
  • Foods are complex, and there are added benefits that come from a particular food, in addition to the vitamins
  • Pills can become expensive
  • Most vitamin pills are classified as dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and although they may be beneficial, they don’t have to undergo rigorous testing

Not a Substitute for Eating Healthy

“People who are more willing to take a vitamin than they are to eat healthy can sometimes try to pacify their own conscious,” says Dr. Rascoe.

He explains that people may think, “I eat terrible, but I take a vitamin, so I’m ok.” The fact is vitamins are not a substitute for healthy nutrition. Our bodies need the nutrients that foods provide, aside from dietary or pill supplements.

Those Who Should Take Vitamins

The main classifications of vitamins include Vitamin A, B, C, D, E and K. These vitamins may have multiple forms, like vitamin D3, for example, as these are complex structures.

To keep it simple, there are two main forms of vitamins: water soluble and fat soluble. Vitamins B and C are water soluble, meaning that our body uses these vitamins and eliminates the excess through our urine. It is hard to overdose on these vitamins.

On the other hand, Vitamins A, D, E, and K, are fat soluble. This means that our body tends to store these vitamins in our fat, so it can be harmful if our body has too much of these vitamins. It can result in a condition called, hypervitaminosis, which has specific harms for each vitamin.

“Sometimes we think, if a little’s good, a lot’s even better,” says Dr. Rascoe. “This gets back to the fact that we can actually harm ourselves by taking too many vitamins.”

However, if you have conditions that make it difficult for your body to get vitamins, your doctor may recommend a vitamin for your health.

People who may need supplemental vitamins:

  • People who do not have a balanced diet
  • People on specific diet plans, such as restricted calories, high protein, etc.
  • People who have absorption problems due to stomach or bowel surgery, chronic diarrhea, or bariatric surgery
  • If you are pregnant, as prenatal vitamins contain folic acid that is proven reduce spinal cord problems in children

Taking a  Multivitamin

“If you eat a balanced diet, you’re not on medicines, you probably don’t need a multivitamin,” says Dr. Rascoe. “What has been proposed is to consider just an all-purpose multivitamin, and try to stay away things of the mega-dose.”

If you are interested in taking vitamins, the best route to take is a multivitamin. This helps avoid taking too many vitamins, unnecessary cost, and overlapping in our nutritional needs.

If you want to get healthy, remember these two facts:

  1. First, try to eat a balanced, healthy diet
  2. If you’re going to take a vitamin and you have no risk factors,  take a general multivitamin once a day to fine-tune your health

“Anyone that’s trying to improve their health through better nutrition, I applaud ,” says Dr. Rascoe. “It’s important to be mindful of everything that we put into our body. In a very real sense, we are what we eat.”

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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Do I need to take vitamins?