Are Vitamins Replacing a Well Balanced Diet?

By Rebecca Jones

It used to be that eating three well balanced meals a day was the key to good health but with more than half of all American adults taking vitamin supplements are we to believe that diet and exercise just aren’t enough? What happened to our food, is it less nutricious than it used to be or is taking vitamins just another way that Americans have learned to cheat on their diets? The truth is that although vitamins can help contrubute to our overall health, they can not replace the vital nutrients derived from whole foods. The real problem is that too many of us these days eat a diet full of heavily processed foods, think sugary drinks and potato chips, and consume far too few fruits and vegetables. Though vitamins should not be used as a one dose fits all solution to health concerns, there are a few supplements that can be recommended.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a key component to good bone health as it allows calcium to be absorbed in the body. This fat-soluble nutrient naturally occurs in very few foods such as salmon and eggs but this doesn’t mean it isn’t naturally available. Almost all of the United States milk supply is fortified with Vitamin D as well as many breakfast cereals and orange juices. Most people can get a percentage of their daily value just from exposure to sunlight. To promote strong bones, a healthy immune system, and to prevent rickettes in children you can take a vitamin D suppliment but it can’t compete with just 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy or 15 minutes of sunshine,  just make sure that you get plenty of calcium as well.

Folic Acid

Folic Acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. It is essential that any woman who is or plans to become pregnant consumes an adequate amount of folic acid as it can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Folate is necessary in the production of new cells and prevents changes to existing ones, reducing the risk of cancer. It also prevents anemia and promotes a healthy metabolism. Leafy greens, beans, peas and fruit are all good sources of folate but this is a case where the risk of deficiency makes it well worth taking a supplement.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

An essential element to good health, Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in heart health and brain function. Many people meet their daily allowance by taking fish oil supplements but there are many natural sources of healthy fatty acids. The most common source is fish like tuna, salmon and halibut but it can also be found in many nut oils, pumpkin and flax seeds and algae. While the full benefits on Omega-3 fatty acids are still being discovered it’s believed that they can reduce the risk of cancer, ease arthritis, lower blood pressure, and help people with diabetes. An omega-3 deficiency can cause fatigue, poor memory, dry skin and mood swings so while it is best to incorporate it into your diet its benefits warrant the use of a supplement when necessary.

The bottom line is that Americans are just not eating as nutritiously as they used to. Too many of us fill up on empty calories while our fruits and vegetables waste away in the bottom of the refrigerator. Supplements can help us meet our nutritional goals, and they are certainly better than going without, but at the end of the day a healthy body requires a healthy diet you just can’t cheat on that.