A reader asks the following question:
“I’ve read that taking a multivitamin is like an insurance policy for my health. What do you think?”
Like most questions readers send me the answer is complicated. Sometimes I wish there were easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. If you are eating the Standard American Diet comprised of empty calories and junk food including sugary snacks, sodas, lots of caffeine, or you regularly skip breakfast, you may find that taking a multivitamin may bridge the gap between your diet and a diet designed for optimal health. (Note: the use of “may” in that sentence though).
But, there are a lot of issues with relying on a multivitamin and it truly can’t take the place of a nutrient-dense whole foods diet. Dietary supplements, including a multivitamin, consist of food extracts that can’t duplicate the composition of a whole, natural food. Additionally, many of the important nutrients in whole foods haven’t been identified or reduced to extracts in order to put them in a multivitamin form. Real food has all the health promoting properties balanced perfectly for our bodies.
If you do choose a multivitamin it’s important to make sure it works for your body, preferably by having a practitioner test various types on you. Check out this previous post Role of Supplements I about the importance of bio-individuality and testing with supplements.
It’s also important that you choose a good brand. Just because a multivitamin is expensive doesn’t mean it’s ingredients are pure. Take a look at this graph to see the correlation between price and percent of label claim of one particular supplement Role of Supplements II.
There is also the issue of satisfaction and the pleasure we derive from eating. No multivitamin is going to be as satisfying as a nutrient-dense whole food. Digestion begins in our brain and impacts nutrient absorption. Our bodies don’t sense food when it’s in a multivitamin pill form.
In some cases a multivitamin can be used to “kick-start” the body and/or support healing. They are not a substitute for good quality nutrition but can be a helpful assist in bringing the body to balance.
Feel free to choose a high quality multivitamin for extra “nutritional insurance,” but remember that no pill can replace your need for nutrient dense whole foods. Only real food can provide the body with a full natural spectrum of nutrients in the appropriate balance to promote optimal health.