In an ideal world, you would not need to take a multivitamin. But there are a number of factors going against you. The world simply isn’t the same as it used to be.
Why Supplementing with a Multivitamin is Necessary
An analysis that examined foods in 1999 vs 1975 revealed:
- An alarming decrease in the amount of calcium – a 50% decrease in broccoli
- Spinach had 45% less vitamin C content
- Collard greens lost over 50% of their potassium
I could go on and on. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say this, “You are what you eat.” Or, to be more accurate, “You are what your food ate.”
You see, there are only so many vitamins and minerals to go around. Plants need nutrients from the soil to produce vitamins. The minerals are taken directly out of the soil. So what happens when a farmer keeps planting the same crop in the same spot year after year after year?
Certain plants have a natural affinity for certain minerals. For example, broccoli is considered to be a terrific source of vitamin C and calcium. So if the farmland isn’t allowed to recover or minerals aren’t put back into the soil, it gradually gets depleted of its vital nutrients.
Of course, farmers and companies with incredibly deep pockets have determined that you can increase levels of nutrients with fertilizers. They’re correct. Of course you can. But the fertilizers they like to use generally focus on Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. Their goal isn’t necessarily to increase nutrients, but instead to increase yield and size of the fruit or vegetable because their goal is to make more money.
So what does all of this mean?
Modern farming methods have effectively destroyed the nutrient content of our fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, for you and me, what this means that we either need to eat more fruits and vegetables or we need to figure out something else.
Consume nutrients your body actually absorbs
Your best option is to eat a well-balanced diet. There’s no doubt about it. Eating real food is by far the best way to get your required nutrients. In most cases, nature has pre-packaged everything for you so that the nutrients are optimally delivered to your system. I say “most cases” because there are outliers like curcumin. Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb. Only a tiny percent of curcumin is able to be used by your body if you eat turmeric.
It’s always a good idea to eat local, organic produce. It is almost always more nutrient dense than its conventionally farmed counterparts.
You get bonus points if you go to a farmer and ask him about his farming methods. The second question you should ask is if he rotates his crops. The first, of course, is if his produce is organic.
Crop rotation is one of the best ways to prevent nutrient depletion as well as mitigate the risk of loss associated with pathogens and vegetable-eating bugs. If an organic farmer is not using this method, stay away. His farming methods may have less of a detrimental effect on the environment, but you’ll get much less out of your food.
So should you take multivitamins? If you can’t locate local, organic produce (or you can’t afford it), then you should definitely take a multivitamin. Or, if you’re eating a terrible diet of largely processed food, a multivitamin will be your best friend.
How to choose a multivitamin supplement
Would it shock you to find out the same rules apply with a multivitamin?
Of course not.
Finding a good multivitamin can be just as tricky as finding food that’s actually good for you. There are a few easy guidelines though.
- Look for a whole food multivitamin
As I mentioned earlier, nature has pre-packaged all the nutrients you need neatly for you. You’ll get better absorption from a real food than you will a synthetic vitamin. The reason is awfully simple: your body can recognise the food and digest it as such. There are times when it has no idea what to do with synthetic compounds. What happens with synthetic supplements is you generally wind up flushing a good portion of them down the toilet. So do your body and your wallet a favour and take a vitamin it’ll recognise.
- Make sure it’s organic
Despite a lot of contention around whether or not it is worth the extra money for organic; organic is still better for nutrient diversity and potency.
- One a day vitamins aren’t going to cut it
The only reason you should ever take one pill a day is because your diet is stellar. If your diet is not amazing, then you shouldn’t expect to get everything you need in a single tablet (unless it’s really, really big). So yes, if you want a quality multivitamin, you’re going to have to swallow more pills. But isn’t it worth it? Isn’t it worth your health and your best self to take a few more pills instead of lying to yourself by thinking that one pill is going to cut it?
One last reminder on multivitamin supplements
All supplements are supplements. They are meant to supplement your diet, not replace it. Your focus should be on eating a well-rounded, nutritionally sound diet. If you are missing certain nutrients or if you’re trying to fix something that a supplement can solve, by all means, take the supplement.
You would have to eat 8 oranges to get the same level of vitamin C your grandparents did in one orange. Eight! Consider your multivitamin an insurance policy against the poor farming practices of the world.
Tony Gill – Neuroscience Specialist