How can I get enough vitamins from the food I eat?

Bryce B. Wylde
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
While it’s important to eat a balanced diet full of healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, studies suggest that Western diets alone typically provide enough vitamins for good health.

In a recent 19-year study of women, titled "Dietary supplements and mortality rate in older women: the Iowa Women's Health Study," researchers found no benefit for women who took dietary supplements, including vitamins, compared to women who did not. A potential exception in the study, researchers said, was calcium supplements, which appeared to lead to a lower risk of death. The study suggested that another exception to the overall findings was the need to take vitamin D. Men were not considered in the multivitamin study.

What I found almost amusing was that when you take what the study had to say along with what both Canadian and US federal guidelines have to say, you’re right back at the need to supplement. Here is what I mean. The study suggested that an exception to the findings was the need to take vitamin D, which many recent studies suggests may help women live longer (and with a higher quality of life I should add). And, if you live north of 32 degrees latitude -- where most of us live -- you’ll likely be low but not necessarily outright deficient in vitamin D. The study also showed that Calcium supplements were linked to a lower risk of death over 19 years of follow-up, with 37% of users dying compared to 43% of non users. The 2010 U.S. dietary guidelines recommend getting nutrients from food, not supplements. However, women of reproductive age are advised to get extra folic acid and those who are pregnant, menstruating, or anemic need iron supplements. The guidelines also urge people 50 and older to get extra vitamin B12 (new research also suggesting it sways the onset of dementia).

I am a strong advocate for functional testing and customizing individual supplement plans. You need to test yourself to know your specific and very individual demands. 
You can get enough vitamins from food, provided you eat a well-rounded, varied diet and you don't have any health conditions that affect what you can eat or how well your body absorbs nutrients from food. To make sure you're consuming a diet that meets all of your nutritional needs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests:
  • aiming to make half of what you eat fruits and vegetables
  • choosing low-fat dairy products
  • consuming a variety of protein sources, such as fish, meat, chicken, eggs, beans and nuts
  • making sure at least half of the grains you consume are whole grains
  • minimizing your intake of high-fat foods or those with lots of added sugar or salt
For more information about healthy food choices, your particular nutrient needs and whether you can reach them by consuming a varied diet, consult your doctor.
If you want to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins from your diet, eat a wide variety of nutrient­dense foods. Greater variety means you are more likely to get a wide array of compounds found in food that are necessary for good health. However, even with a really good diet, it’s tough to get certain nutrients, especially if you don’t consume at least 2,000 calories per day (more food means more opportunities to consume nutrients).

And what you see isn’t always what you get. Food processing and storage (including your own food processing and storage), may decrease the nutrient content of your food, not to mention the fact that certain disease states and medications increase your need for specific vitamins and minerals. So, consider a multivitamin/mineral to fill in any dietary gaps. Multivitamins are like an insurance policy -- they give you a little boost when you need it the most. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.