Q: Do we need to take vitamin supplements or do our diets suffice? I heard we can’t absorb all the nutrients at once.

Vitamins are essential nutrients and key to maintaining a healthy metabolism. They are essential because our bodies have no way to synthesize them, and thus they must be obtained through our diets. In general, a well-balanced diet will provide sufficient daily intake of vitamins. The most recent dietary guideline from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following:1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

A healthy eating pattern includes:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits:

  • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium

Because most vitamins can be found readily in fruits, vegetables, and proteins, maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet provides an adequate amount of vitamins. However, if your diet is missing one of the major food groups (for example, if you are vegetarian, vegan, or on the Atkins diet), it might be beneficial to take specific vitamin supplements to compensate. It is important to consult your physician to see whether you need to take any dietary vitamin supplements.

What happens if I take excess vitamins?

Most vitamins are well tolerated in our bodies and excess vitamins are excreted by our kidneys into urine. However, I must emphasize that regular intake of excessive amounts (>500% daily intake of any vitamin) could be harmful to your body. For example, chronic hypervitaminosis A, a condition where one continuously eats too much Vitamin A, can cause dizziness, nausea, joint and bone pain, and even death.2Hypervitaminosis A https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000350.htm Most vitamin supplements provide over 100% of your recommended daily value, so you can consider taking vitamin supplements every 2 or 3 days to avoid chronic excess intake.

In general, if you have a well-balanced diet, you do not have to take vitamin supplements. If you are considering taking vitamins, consult your physician and inform them of your current diet so they can better assist you.

For further reading on specific vitamins, the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements has great fact sheets on each vitamin that provide information on recommended daily intakes and what common foods provide specific vitamins. Look up a vitamin here!

About Victor Pai, MS

Victor has a masters degree in biomedical science and is a PhD candidate working on adipocyte (fat cell) metabolism at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
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