With so many supplements on the market, it's difficult to differentiate between products that can help you improve your overall health and those that are simply a waste of money or even worse, potentially harmful. A multivitamin can be helpful if used properly.
The American Diet's Need for Supplements.
Micronutrients are substances that the body needs in tiny amounts to regulate essential body functions. These vitamins and minerals are normally found in nutrient dense foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains), but with the advent of the modern American diet, the intake of these foods has steadily decreased while the intake of energy dense, empty calorie foods has skyrocketed. These processed foods are very high in energy but provide little in the way of these essential nutrients which creates the illusion that supplements can fix bad diets.
The Purpose of a Multivitamin
Multivitamins are an easy way to get an entire day's worth of nutrients in one pill. Unfortunately, a multivitamin isn't the best way to go for your nutrient needs. Food has a lot more nutrients than a single multivitamin and include antioxidants, fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, all of which can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and strokes.
The purpose of a multivitamin is not to replace a well balanced diet, but to supplement it. It's nearly impossible to get 100% of your daily value of every single vitamin and mineral. You can however get close by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seafood and whole grains.
Supplement Instead of Food?
So why can't you simply supplement fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals while eating all the junk you want? There are plenty of reasons why taking a pill rather than eating is a bad idea with the most important being that food works better. There have been studies that show foods work better than supplements at preventing disease.
Another reason you shouldn't supplement while eating junk is because that junk can actually increase your risk of disease that some of these nutrients are supposed to prevent. Taking a multivitamin or fiber supplement will not help you very much when the majority of your diet is made up of saturated fat, sodium and sugar.
Eating foods that are high in these nutrients will help you stay away from junk. The foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber will typically keep you full for a long period of time, killing any cravings and helping you to lower your calorie intake. This will also help you lose weight or stay within your healthy weight range.
The Bottom Line
Should you take a multivitamin? Yes. Multivitamins can help plug holes in a diet. Multivitamins shouldn't be used in place of a balanced diet, but alongside one. Remember that a healthy diet is much better at preventing disease than a supplement.