Can We Actually Rely on Vitamins and Supplements?
We live in a fast paced world. Everything is clocked and moving at speeds that we cannot really understand sometimes. Even our food now has versions of it, which we call “fast food”. Naturally then, due to our hectic lives, it is inevitable that we tend to ignore our diet and end up relying on supplements. They come in easy shapes like pills or powders and don’t take a long time to prepare, mostly being available off the shelf in shops. It is not always that we ignore our diet but, increasingly, it happens more often than we would like. Let us discuss when it is sensible to take supplements and when it is not.
As per their definition, supplements are supposed to supplement the food you eat. They have to contain some form of a dietary ingredient such as minerals or vitamins to augment your food intake. In the processed food industry, it is common to hear statements like vitamin C is good for your immunity or vitamin D is good for the bones, etc. Though these facts are true, one must not forget the basic idea behind supplements – they “supplement” the food regularly taken. It is easy for the average person to form an opinion that only by taking these supplements can they get the required nutrition.
So what are these vitamins that everyone likes to talk about? Vitamins are, quite simply, organic compounds that are required for the bodily functions of growth and nutrition. These are needed in small quantities daily as the body cannot store them. They cannot be produced by the body, which is why we need to take them from external sources. Traditionally, all vitamins were consumed through one’s normal diet and by walking in the sun (for vitamin D). With lifestyle changes and different food habits, many people don’t receive an adequate quantity of the vitamins required. Hence, advances in medical and food processing fields have led to the isolation of vitamins and other compounds that are sold in the market.
There is a huge market for Omega-3 pills, fish oil pills and various kinds of green teas that are supposed to be rich in antioxidants, which it is claimed reduce the risk of heart disease, help in weight loss, etc. The American Heart Association has recommended that only people with coronary artery disease should consider Omega-3 supplements after due discussion with their doctor. Moreover, it is a known medical fact that weight loss cannot happen by magic; it only happens with proper diet and exercise. Even the ideas of weight “loss” and “gain” are fashioned by the industries that promote external physical beauty standards (for example, protein powders) that are impossible for the average person to achieve. It is necessary for the body to be healthy first, before looking good to others.
The recommended amount of nutrition for the body comes through the food we eat — fruits, vegetables, cereals, pulses, dairy and protein. We can look at some of the most common vitamins below that can be found in our diets and whether any supplements are necessary for them:
Vitamin A: This is derived from whole milk and eggs, dark green leafy vegetables and fruits that are yellow in colour. Oranges also contain this vitamin.
B Vitamins: These are found in almost every aspect of our diet. The only exceptions are strict vegetarians and pregnant women who, upon medical advice, can take vitamin B12 supplements based on their body condition.
Vitamin C: This is a vitamin that can improve immunity. Citrus fruits are a good source. It is a common conception that it improves the health of smokers, but these claims are unverified.
Vitamin D: Regular exposure to the sun for brief periods of time is the perfect source of vitamin D. Fatty fish, eggs and dairy products are also a good source.
A few more vitamins are required by the body that can be included in a balanced meal. To summarize, there is no real need to rely upon diet supplements except under special circumstances such as for senior citizens, during convalescence, etc. where the body is unable to function at a normal metabolic rate. So do consult your dietician about balanced meals that you can eat at home to ensure good nutrition.