Vitamins not an adequate substitute for healthy diet

by Molly Daniels

Many people add vitamins to their diet as a step toward a healthier lifestyle. Americans spent $11 billion on vitamin supplements in 2012, according to The Huffington Post. However, controversies have arisen over whether or not vitamin supplements are helpful. In addition, misconceptions exist about the effects of vitamins on the body.

Many individuals believe that increasing their intake of a certain vitamin cure them of illness, help them lose weight, prevent diseases or give them more energy. The truth is that they could more safely achieve these same goals by including more foods that naturally contain vitamins in their diet. A vitamin supplement should only be taken when a doctor recommends it.

Self-prescribing vitamins can lead to negative consequences. For example, high levels of vitamin D can raise the risk of cancer and heart disease, according to a New York Times article in 2010. People are also more likely to die from these diseases if they have high levels of vitamin D. A level of 20-30 nanograms is healthy, and most people naturally have that level. Individuals become more susceptible to cancer and heart disease when they take large doses of vitamins A or E, said Dr. Paul Offit, a researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in a 2013 interview with National Public Radio. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate vitamin supplements so many people are misinformed, according to the interview article. Therefore, vitamin labels can make unfounded claims. A nutrition advocacy group, called the Center for Science in the Public Interest, threatened to sue Bayer Healthcare for claiming their vitamins could reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to a recent article by Natural Products Insider. They also claimed that the product could lead to a healthier heart, immunity to sickness and higher energy. None of these claims had been proven by research.

If a healthy, well-balanced diet is maintained, vitamin supplements are not necessary. Even if one’s diet is not as healthy as it could be, people in the US are among the most nourished in the world. Vitamin deficiencies occur when people are not eating what they should. Vitamins cannot replace food. If vitamins are not consumed in the form of food, they will have little or no effect, according to an article published by Colorado State University in Sept. 2013. Nutrients are more safely and easily accessed by an increased consumption of certain foods, more sunlight and removal of unhealthy foods and products such as tobacco and alcohol. It’s not quite as simple as taking a pill to fix a problem, because that pill does not exist.

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