Most of us take a multivitamin of some kind. While it is unlikely we have been diagnosed with a nutrient deficiency it seems like a sensible precaution. However many experts today claim we are wasting our time and money. Instead they say that multivitamins make little difference and all we need is a balanced diet. How true is this?
What Are Vitamins?
First let’s take a look at what vitamins are and what effect they have on the human body. There are seven major groups of nutrients. These are carbohydrates, fats, dietary fibre, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water. These are the essential building blocks our bodies need to function. Of these fat, protein and carbohydrates are classed as macronutrients. These are the chemical compounds that humans have to eat a lot of and they both build and maintain our tissues and provide us with energy. Dietary fibre and water can also be classed as macronutrients as they are needed in relatively large quantities but they do not provide the body with energy. Vitamins and minerals are labelled as micronutrients because the body only needs a very small amount of these. Sadly, your body can not produce micronutrients so they must be suppled from diet or a multivitamin. So how easy is it to get all the micronutrients we need from diet alone?
Can We Get All Our Vitamins From Our Diet Alone?
Different factors play a part in how high our diet is in micronutrients. To get the full range of vitamins and minerals we need to eat a very varied diet. This is easier for affluent nations that import food from all around the world. If you can afford it, in these countries you could eat blueberries every day and always benefit from their high levels of potassium, vitamin C, phytoflavinoids and antioxidants. In reality, even in countries that have a variety of food available, people tend to stick to a narrow range of ingredients. Things are even more difficult in poorer countries where there is not as much choice. Some governments try to add micronutrients to their country’s food or water. It would makes sense though for individuals to take a multivitamin to fill in anything they are lacking from their diet. So what are the vitamins and minerals that are the most difficult to get from diet?
It might surprise you to learn that iron deficiency is the biggest nutritional disorder in the world. Over 30% of the world – that is more than 2 billion people – don’t get enough iron. This affects every country in the world, making it a public health condition of epidemic proportions. The best food source for iron is red meat but the average person eats much less meat nowadays. While iron can be obtained from plants, much less is absorbed and it needs to be combined with vitamin C to be more effective. A multivitamin can help with this as they usually combine both iron and vitamin C.
Zinc is another micronutrient you should look for in your multivitamin. Like iron deficiency, it affects people all around the globe. Estimates claim that over 17% of the population don’t get enough zinc. Zinc not only supports the immune system but it is also needed for pregnant women. The body can not store zinc so it is necessary to consume some every day. Since the foods with the highest amount of zinc are things such as oysters, lobsters and crabs it is easy to see why many of us don’t get enough of it.
Vitamin D is another micronutrient that is hard to get the full complement our bodies need from food alone. In fact the main source of vitamin D for the majority of people is sunlight. With the prevalence of skin cancer, most of us take the precaution of using sun block before going out in the sun which also blocks vitamin D absorption. Especially in winter, most people are not getting as much vitamin D as they need and it would be sensible to take a multivitamin containing it.
Magnesium has been described as a super micronutrient because it is involved in literally hundreds of metabolic reactions in our body. Among magnesium’s many vital roles are included reducing anxiety and blood pressure, regulating heart rhythm, and steadying blood sugar. The problem is that the foods that are highest in magnesium are not usually viewed as very appetising. While there are obviously some exemptions, most of us do not choose to eat things like kale, spinach and brown rice on a daily basis. A multivitamin can help to keep your magnesium levels up.
Iodine is another micronutrient many of us are lacking. The main food source for iodine is seaweed, which is not something most of us have on our weekly shopping list. It has been suggested that you could use iodized salt but it has an unpleasant metallic taste. Iodine is need to make thyroid hormones, which control the body’s metabolism, so it makes sense to take a multivitamin that contains it.
This is just a brief look at some of the micronutrients the average person struggles to get from their diet alone. If you are concerned that you are extremely deficient in any of these it would be best to talk to your doctor. We all should try and add a little variety to our diet but it is also sensible to take a multivitamin as well.