Saturday, February 11, 2012
Multivitamins: Are They Really Necessary?
I used to be that guy who popped a multivitamin every morning with breakfast, believing that the little chalky orange capsule was truly making a difference in my health and fitness, and that without it I'd feel like crap, perform like dirt and look like garbage. I swore by the thing, and when it came time to buy new multivitamins I always looked for the brand that was "performance oriented", and gave you along the lines of a few thousand percent of the daily recommended value of each vitamin and mineral. Heck, they even threw other things in those pills, like amino acids, folate, selenium, all sorts of stuff. It was the classic "more is better" mindset, and I was stuck in it.
Then, upon visiting my grandparents, my grandfather, a PhD biochemist and a long and very prosperous career at Pfizer to boot, watched me take my multivitamin with a sort of disappointment. He said to me "You don't need that giant pill, especially one with those kind of vitamin amounts. People go way overboard on multivitamins. You only really need 100% of everything, and it's possible to overdose on certain vitamins. I don't understand super strong multivitamins these days. People don't need them, especially you at your age with your diet."
At first, I argued with him, saying excess water soluble vitamins were just expelled along with excess water in your body. And while that's true, I realized he did have a point about certain vitamins that are fat soluble, because it's quite possible to overdose on those, especially if your diet's healthy and your pill is HUGE. So what did I do? I took a little vacation from multivitamins. And guess what? About three months later, I'm still on that vacation, and I'm feeling just fine. I've had no noticeable side effects from going cold turkey. No fatigue, no power loss, and no loss of strength at the gym. In fact, if anything, I feel better. So what gives? Are multivitamins really pointless? Should you just save that money you shell out on those pills? Let's explore a little bit.
First of all, let me start by saying this. I am a firm believer in nature, and long before multivitamins ever existed there were people living long and happy lives off natural foods alone. Nature has a way of putting pretty much everything you need right there in the palm of your hand, if you know how to look for it. No, I'm not some hippy telling you to go hug a tree, but if you eat healthy, have a little confidence that you'll be getting nearly 100% of all necessary vitamins and minerals from your diet each and every day. To prove this point, let's look at a few foods that contain large quantities of the vitamins and minerals you'd normally supplement with a vitamin.
Vitamin C- Strawberries- You can get 140% of your daily vitamin C from one cup of strawberries!
Vitamin A- Sweet potatoes- In one 100g sweet potato, you'll get almost 380% of your recommended vitamin A!
Vitamin B6-Tuna, Salmon, and Chicken- Tuna contains about 60% of your daily recommended value of vitamin B6, while chicken and salmon both contain a little over 30%.
Vitamin B12-Salmon/calf liver- Salmon contains about 95% of your DV of B12, and if you can stomach it, a serving of calf liver has about 1500% of your DV. Wow! The good news is that if you can't find the oh so common calf liver, shrimp, beef, and yogurt are also very high in B12.
Calcium-Cheese and Almonds- Cheese has about 40% of your daily calcium per ounce, and almonds are around 30% per ounce.
Selenium- Tuna, Cod, Halibut, and Mushrooms- The first 3 fish mentioned have about 75% of your daily selenium per serving, and crimini mushrooms have about 50% per serving. Not bad!
Folate- Spinach and Chickpeas- Both of these have about 65% of your daily recommended serving of folate per serving, and it's easy to put both into one salad!
I could keep going, but hopefully I've made my point relatively clear that you can get the vast majority of everything you need from your diet. And the best part is, that while even though the foods I mentioned happen to be rich in one particular nutrient, every single one contains a vast spectrum of other nutrients. You're getting a virtual rainbow of nutrition with every serving of healthy food, not to mention that the way the nutrients are distributed in natural whole foods is something a man-made multivitamin could never really replicate.
How about what I said before, could multivitamins be dangerous? Well, for someone like me who eats loads and loads of veggies on a daily basis, I really don't need a giant pill on top of all that. In fact, I'd be slightly worried that I would overdose on fat soluble vitamins EVENTUALLY. What are the 4 fat soluble vitamins? Vitamins A, E, D, and K. How easy would it be to overdose? Well, a 25,000 IU dose of vitamin A can cause liver cirrhosis.
Let's compare the vitamin A dosage in three different multivitamins: Opti-Men, Animal Pak (a very famous bodybuilding oriented vitamin), and mega mens sport (my roommates current MV)
Mega Men's-5000 IU
Animal Pak- 9900 IU
Those are some pretty impressive doses, and it's recommended not to exceed over 10,000 IU a day for vitamin A. Take two of any one of these vitamins and you're on track for an overdose. Heck, one a day almost seems like too much, especially if you're eating healthy otherwise.
What I find quite funny is that all these vitamins contain several hundred percent of your daily recommended value for vitamin D. Vitamin D can be obtained naturally by just standing in the sun for a bit, as the UVB rays create vitamin D in your skin. This is why with the big pills, you're pretty much paying for stuff you REALLY don't need.
So am I telling you to toss your vitamins? No, not quite. I believe a multivitamin can be beneficial for certain reasons. Firstly, for those who don't eat as much as me (which would be the majority of you), you probably won't get as many vitamins and minerals from your diet alone. Second, those who don't eat as healthy as they could might also be lacking in at least a few nutritional areas. Third, as our bodies age they become less able to efficiently absorb vitamins and minerals. I believe a multivitamin has one particular purpose that it does quite well: to fill in the gaps. No matter how fantastic your diet, there will most likely be just one or two little nutrients you're lacking. A multivitamin can bump these areas up to snuff, and you'll be set to go. Guess what that means though? YOU DON'T NEED A GIANT PILL. If you're really set on taking a multivitamin, read the ingredients, and get the cheapest one that covers all the bases sufficiently. You don't need a million percent of anything. 100% is fine. Save yourself some money, please.
But if you don't want to take a multivitamin, by all means, toss them. Eat healthy, and you'll be fine. Don't be afraid to load up on veggies at dinner time, and heap some good lean meat onto your plate. Most likely they'll contain more than enough of everything your body needs to keep on trucking through your workouts, your school-work, and life in general. And it'd be nice to forget about one more pill in the morning, right?
Trust your diet, eat the good stuff, and as always, GOOD LUCK!