How to Fix the Poor American Eating Habits
Even the best eating plans can fall short of meeting all of the 40-plus nutrients you need each day. Most Americans fail to meet dietary recommendations for many reasons, including strict dieting, poor appetite, changing nutritional needs, or less-than-healthy food choices. So a lot of people turn to a once-daily multivitamin is an easy way to fill in small nutritional gaps.
But does a once-daily multivitamin really work, and how do I know which multivitamin to take, if at all?
Multivitamins are a Supplement not a Substitute
Healthy eating remains the best source of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. A multivitamin is not a substitute for healthy food or a healthy lifestyle, but it can provide a nutritional back-up for a less-than-ideal diet. "If your diet eliminates whole food groups or you don’t eat enough variety of foods -- you would benefit from a once-daily multivitamin," says Karen Ansel, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and potassium as nutrients of concern for inadequate intake in adults and children. All of these nutrients, except fiber, come packaged in a multivitamin. Fiber can be obtained as a separate supplement, but it's still best to try to get all your fiber from the foods you eat.
So we know that we shouldn't substitute a multivitamin for healthy eating, but if I'm lacking in a nutrient of concern, how do I know if my multivitamin is taking care of those needs?
The studies, published in the Dec. 17 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that multivitamin and mineral supplements did not work any better than placebo pills.
One study was a meta-analysis of 27 studies that covered more than 450,000 participants and found that multivitamins had no beneficial effect on preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer.
In response, some scientists have pointed out that most of the studies does that accurately represents the American population. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, a quarter over 50 years of age have two or more chronic conditions, so there's a substantial population that one would hesitate to call healthy. Multivitamins can be the only safeguard to individuals who refuse to eat healthy.
Since the studies didn't address if there are multivitamins that work better than others, we will next look at different types of multivitamins and investigate which type works best.
Natural vs. Synthetic Multivitamins
The most important thing to do when choosing a multivitamin is to determine where the ingredients come from. The answer to this question will tell you what the quality of the product actually is. You specifically want to know if the ingredients were sourced from whole foods or if they were created synthetically. Synthetic ingredients are manufactured in laboratories while the latter come from real whole foods.
One of the easiest ways to show you the difference between synthetic and whole food-based vitamins is using vitamin C as an example. Vitamin C is actually a complex of many different types of C vitamins. In other words, it is not just one vitamin. Generally, you will see vitamin C listed as ascorbic acid. While ascorbic acid is a C vitamin, it is only one element of the vitamin C complex.
One way you can avoid synthetic ingredients is by choosing a whole food-based multivitamin. Let's use vitamin C again as an example to show you the difference.
When you look at vitamin C on the label of a whole food-based multivitamin, you will see something along the lines of vitamin C complex from acerola cherries or citrus fruits. Both types of fruit contain high levels of vitamin C. This is important because when we eat vitamin C in its natural form, we get the ascorbic acid along with all the other C vitamins in the complex.
Vitamins work together synergistically in their natural state but not when they are synthetically isolated. This is an important distinction because it directly affects their ability to be absorbed and used in the body. This is the biggest reason you should choose a whole food-based multivitamin over a synthetic one.
Pay Attention to the Label
Sometimes the labeling on supplements can be a little tricky to understand, and often, they can be misleading. Almost every one of them claims to be "the best" and some synthetic multivitamins even have pictures of fruits and vegetables on them.
If you are in doubt, search the bottle or packaging for a statement that says: whole food multivitamin or all ingredients derived from whole foods. If you want to take it a step further, look for a whole food-based multivitamin that is derived from organic fruits and vegetables. If the label says the fruits and veggies are also raw, that's even better.
What do all the Numbers on the Label Mean?
Another question I am often asked is "What do all the percentages and numbers on my multivitamin mean?" The main numbers you should be concerned with are: Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), Adequate Intake (AI) and Tolerable Upper Limit (UL). These values are collectively known as Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) and have been established by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
• RDA is the average daily dietary intake sufficient enough to meet the nutrient requirement for most healthy individuals.
• AI is an approximation used when there is not sufficient data available to determine an RDA.
• UL is the highest level most healthy individuals can take without the risk of adverse effects. In general, you should not exceed the upper limit unless you are under a doctor's supervision.
I hope this gives you all the information you need to help you determine if you need to take a multivitamin or not, and if you do, what's the best type of multivitamin to take.
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