I don’t know about you but in every magazine, newspaper, and store these days, I can’ t help but see an advertisement or article on a dietary supplement of some kind. It’s like anything you need to be healthy or recover from you can buy in a bottle.
A study done in the UK in 2002 examined the supplement use of supplements in cancer survivors. Researchers studied the patterns of supplement use among 622 colon cancer survivors who were enrolled in a chemoprevention trial. They found that 55 percent of the subjects took at least one supplement. Among supplement users, 66 percent took more than one product, and 13 percent took five or more. The most commonly used products were multivitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, and calcium. Five percent of the subjects used a fiber supplement, and there was a similar level of use of other botanicals (including garlic, gingko, and ginseng) and of specialty products (including glucosamine, melatonin, and lecithin).
Another study done by the US Armed Forces surveyed more than 2200 men entering training for the U.S. Army special forces. The study revealed found that 64 percent were using dietary supplements at least occasionally, and 35 percent were using supplements on a daily basis. The majority of soldiers reported taking supplements to promote general health or for performance enhancement.
National surveys indicate that about half of Americans use dietary supplements.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) commissioned a study on whether consumers had made dietary changes to reduce cancer risk. Overall, 39 percent of those surveyed said they had made changes to their diets to reduce cancer risk. Among those who said they had changed their diets, 68 percent also used dietary supplements.
Apart from the research studies we read and the ads we see, health experts are always urging us to get more vitamins and minerals into our diets. The message to get our vitamins and minerals is loud and clear, but there is a problem. The problem is many of us aren’t really sure about which ones we need and why. Are you one of those people? Read on to get clued-up!
Why They’re Important
Vitamins and minerals play a lot of different roles in your body and being deficient in just one or two can have an impact on your general health. Some of these roles include supporting a healthy immune system, healthy growth and development and cell and organ functioning.
Here are some of the most important vitamins and why they’re so important.
- Fat-soluble vitamins
These vitamins are stored by your body if they’re not needed straight away so you don’t need to be packing them into your diet on a daily basis. In fact, having too much of these vitamins in your body can be harmful so it’s important not to go overboard with these types:
Vitamin A: It’s needed for building immunity against infections and improving vision in poor light. Good sources of vitamin A include cheese, eggs, oily fish e.g. mackerel, milk, yogurt and liver (unless you’re pregnant, in which case liver is to be avoided). A balanced diet should provide an adequate amount of vitamin A but you don’t need it every day and getting too much can lead you to develop osteoporosis.
Vitamin D: It’s needed for helping to keep your bones and teeth healthy and can go some way towards counteracting the effects of too much vitamin A. A deficiency can lead to rickets (softening and weakening of the bones). Natural sunlight is the best source of vitamin D but it can also be found in oily fish e.g. sardines and salmon, eggs, fortified fat spreads and fortified breakfast cereals. It may be wise to take vitamin D supplements if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, aged 65+, don’t expose your skin to sunlight (e.g. if you cover up for cultural reasons) or are unable to get out of the house much but most people should be able to get enough vitamin D from their diet and by getting some exposure to natural sunlight. Just don’t overdo your sun exposure to the extent that you get sunburnt!
Vitamin E: It helps to protect cell membranes. Good sources include plant oils e.g. soya, corn and olive oil, nuts, seeds and wheat germ. A good diet should provide adequate amounts of vitamin E.
Vitamin K: It’s needed for blood clotting so if you’re deficient, cuts will take longer to stop bleeding. Good sources of vitamin K include leafy green vegetables, broccoli and soybeans.
- Water-soluble vitamins
Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, your body gets rid of any excess if it’s not needed, which means that you need to be getting these vitamins on a daily basis to make sure that you’re getting an adequate amount. Nutrients can be easily lost in cooking so it’s recommend that you steam or grill foods to make this less of an issue.
Vitamin B1: It works with other B vitamins to release energy from food and keeps nerves and muscle tissue healthy. Good sources of vitamin B1 include pork, milk, cheese, peas, fruit (fresh and dried), eggs, wholegrain bread and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B2: It helps to keep skin, eyes and the nervous system healthy and in producing red blood cells. Good sources of vitamin B2 include milk, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, rice, and mushrooms. UV light can destroy vitamin B2 so keep these foods out of direct sunlight where possible.
Vitamin B3: It helps to keep the nervous and digestive systems. Good sources of vitamin B3 include meat, fish, eggs and milk.
Vitamin B6: It encourages your body to use and store energy from proteins and carbohydrates and helps to form haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. Good sources of vitamin B6 include pork, chicken, turkey, cod, bread, oatmeal, rice, eggs, soya beans, milk, potatoes, peanuts and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin B12: It’s needed to make sure that your body is producing enough red blood cells and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. A deficiency can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency anemia. A balanced diet which contains meat, fish and dairy products should provide enough vitamin B12 but vegans may find it difficult to get enough from their diets.
Vitamin C: It helps to protect cells, keep skin and gums healthy and aid iron absorption. Good sources include oranges, kiwis, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli and peppers. You should be able to get your recommended daily allowance (RDA) through a balanced diet but if you do take too much (e.g. if you’re also taking supplements), you may experience stomach pain, diarrhea and flatulence.
Folic acid: It works with vitamin B12 to produce healthy red blood cells and helps tp reduce the possibility of central nervous system defects e.g. spina bifida in unborn babies. Good sources of folic acid include broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals. If you’re pregnant or planning to be, you’re advised to take an extra 0.4mg of folic acid until the 12th week of pregnancy to protect your unborn baby.
As well as vitamins, there are also various minerals that should form part of a healthy diet, including:
Iron: It is essential for producing red blood cells. Good sources of iron include liver (although not if you’re pregnant as the vitamin A that it also contains can be harmful), meat, beans, nuts, dried apricots, brown rice, fortified breakfast cereals and leafy green vegetables.
Calcium: It’s needed for healthy teeth and bones, and a deficiency can mean that you’re at risk of osteoporosis (Brittle Bone Disease) in later life. It’s also thought that calcium can lower blood pressure and protect against colon and breast cancer, although more evidence is needed to confirm these predictions. Good sources of calcium include milk, yogurt and leafy green vegetables.
Remember this: The best way to make sure that you’re getting a good range of vitamins and minerals from your food is to follow a healthy, balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you eat right, you shouldn’t need to take dietary supplements as a substitute.
So, do you take vitamins and minerals? Which ones do you take and why do you take them?