To use vitamin and mineral supplements or not? That is the question of the hour. If you have been keeping up with the news lately, vitamin supplementation has come under scrutiny as a result of some large longitudinal study findings. Unless you are likely to have a serious deficiency in overall nutrient intake – or unless you have a specific indication for taking a multivitamin, such as pregnancy or the intent of pregnancy – use of a multivitamin supplement may be ill advised.
You need a good reason to do it; a “safety net” excuse is no longer sufficient. The reason for the fear of vitamin supplementation is due to an overabundance of supplements, which can lead to adverse health implications if not corrected. Most people get what they need from a balanced diet consisting of whole foods.
Astute use of select supplements still makes sense. There is enough convincing evidence of the benefits from supplemental omega-3 oils and vitamin D for most men and women, and calcium for most women. For the most part, other supplements should be used for a specific reason, and with input from someone with nutrition expertise. As an example, B12 supplementation is warranted for most vegans, and for all older adults with pernicious anemia.
A vitamin/mineral supplement may help when you:
- Are eating less than 1,600 calories per day or you are on a low-calorie weight-loss diet
- Are elderly and not eating as much as you should
- Are a strict vegetarian or vegan
- Are pregnant or a woman of child-bearing age
- Have a medical condition that limits your food choices
Good nutrition is about balance. As we have reduced our salt intake or switched to sea salt (devoid of iodine), so have we reduced our iodine intake. A diet lacking in iodine which is an essential mineral, meaning the body cannot produce it by itself, increases chances of goiter and cretinism (goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland in the neck and cretinism is a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth).
Iodine is necessary for the body’s thyroid hormones which regulate metabolism, brain development and prevention of mental retardation. Even mineral deficits in high risk groups such as pregnant and postpartum women can lower intelligence by 10-15 IQ points. A maximum recommended level is 150 mg for adult females and up to 290 mg if pregnant or lactating. Having a urinary iodine excretion of anything less than 100 mcg per liter is considered a deficit.
If you choose to kick the multi-vitamin habit, here are a few tips to help you with the transition:
- Consume whole foods (unprocessed and unrefined) whenever possible
- Eat 5-9 fruits and vegetables per day
- Eat fish 2 times per week
- When cooking, use iodized salt
- Add kelp to your diet – it is one of the best natural sources of iodine and it can be crumbled over dishes
- Eat more sushi, made with seaweed, another great iodine source
As a rule of thumb, eat a well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and proteins and you should ensure that you get adequate nutrients. If directed by your doctor to supplement them do so until the deficiency is corrected.