Research

Eat Your Vitamins

People growing up in the early 20th century were likely told to eat their vegetables.  As people turned to technology and “quick fixes” became the sought-after norm near the end of that century, parents were telling their kids to take their vitamins.

Now, the tide has changed again, as the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) last month issued its statement that there is insufficient evidence that multivitamins, as well as individual mineral and vitamin supplements, such as vitamin E, prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer.  The statement, issued in the Feb. 25 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, also suggested little evidence of harm from taking multivitamins and most single-vitamin supplements.  But, the report did find evidence that taking beta carotene increased the lung cancer risk for people already at risk for developing the disease.

“The USPSTF’s recommendations, which we closely follow in internal medicine, simply mean we shouldn’t be relying on vitamins and minerals in pill form to provide the healthy nutrients our bodies need to work properly,” said Manuel Torres, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group family practice physician. “Instead, focus your attention on getting your vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat.”

Dr. Torres says if you regularly eat unhealthy foods and take vitamins to make up for your poor nutrition, you’re wasting your money.

And if you’re replacing necessary medications with vitamins to “cure” chronic diseases, you’re risking your health, he says.

“Don’t forgo evidence-based medicine and stop taking your prescribed medications,” he said.  “Claims that say vitamins and natural substances like cinnamon will get rid of diabetes are just not factual and can be downright dangerous.”

But, if you’re taking vitamins to get you to the level of the daily requirement of a nutrient you need to help with a medical condition, such as calcium for osteoporosis, Dr. Torres recommends staying the course.  In fact, a recent study published in Menopause suggests postmenopausal women who took 400 IUs of vitamin D3 and 1,000 mg of calcium daily saw their bad cholesterol, or LDL, drop by 4 to 5 points after two years.

“If you eat healthy, you might not need multivitamins,” Dr. Torres said.  “But for specific medical conditions, they may be beneficial, so you should follow your doctor’s recommendations.”

Eating healthily to improve nutrition and avoid the need for vitamin and mineral supplementation requires planning, according to registered dietitian Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for Baptist Health.

Ms. Castro recommends eating 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day and says variety is key.

“Try to have 1 cup of cooked vegetables at both lunch and dinner or a side salad of 2 cups of raw veggies,” she said.  “Your third serving of vegetables could be a snack, like carrots and hummus.”

For fruit, she recommends eating one fruit at breakfast and one fruit as a snack, especially after a meal when you might crave something sweet.  Frozen grapes or strawberries with a drizzle of dark chocolate may help curb that sweet tooth.  Apples with almond butter make a great snack between meals.

“Fruits and vegetables are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals,” she said.  “It’s important to eat several different types of foods versus eating the same thing every day, so you are exposed to different nutrients.”

Whether for your overall health or disease management, research, Dr. Torres and Ms. Castro all agree, take the time to eat your vitamins!

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