There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. ~Donald Rumsfeld
About 71% of US adults reported taking dietary supplements. That's a lot of people spending a lot of money on vitamins and supplements! Unlike food and drugs, supplements are not regulated by any agencies, like the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) that oversees food and drugs. So do they really work?
For those of us that try to eat mindfully, we do so for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is to feel healthy and at our best. When you eat mindfully you try to eat a clean, natural, varied diet in moderate amounts. If you are healthy and eating mindfully, congratulations -- you are likely getting all the nutrients you need and don't need supplements. Not only are you naturally getting all the nutrients you need, you are also getting them at the levels and in the combinations that you need. Broccoli doesn't just have folic acid and Vitamin B, it has several nutrients balanced at the ratios nature intended.
But should you take a supplement as insurance, just in case you're missing something? Honestly, the answer to that is we (as in science) don't know. But probably not. The extra vitamins and minerals you are adding through supplements might result in mega-dosing and harm you more than they help. Some vitamins are toxic in high doses. For example, if you are already getting the Vitamin E you need through food, and you add an additional 50IU of Vitamin E (167% of your recommended daily value) through a multivitamin, you might be mega-dosing. No one knows what the result of TOO MUCH Vitamin E might be. There are studies that link high-dose Vitamin E to a higher risk of heart failure and prostate cancer. The extra vitamins and minerals also aren't balanced naturally, the way they are through food. Food is complex - eat mindfully and you will get what you need.
However, if you have a medical condition that requires a specific supplement (like pregnancy or anemia), talk to your healthcare provider and take it! Eat a balanced diet, and take the supplements you need.
What to do - Eat Mindfully for Optimal Nutrition
- Eat a high quality, mindful diet in moderate amounts. If you are healthy, you will get the nutrition you need, naturally.
- Mind your doctor - get a check up. If you have any conditions, comply with the doctor's orders and take the supplements and treatments you need.
- Relax - you're doing what you need to take care of yourself!
Want to read more?
- Older Americans are hooked on vitamins despite scarce evidence they work, Chicago Tribune, 5/29/18
- Should You Take a Vitamin? Do You Know What a Vitamin Is? New York Times, 5/26/16
What I ate: 12 oz green juice, hardboiled egg + soy sauce, 2.5 cups of spanakorizo (rice, spinach, chicken bone broth, cumin), 1/2 avocado, 1.5 cups broccoli, 1 cup cheese crackers, 2.5 cups strawberries, bananas and cherries, blueberries + chia seeds, 32 oz café latté, 25 oz water, 3 Justin's mini dark cocolate peanut butter cups, 25 oz water
Exercise: jogged 4 miles