|- summarized from Harvard Medical School|
Can you get all your nutrients from food alone?
I've always thought that we should be able to if we eat a varied and healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Unlike the majority of Americans, I think I have an instinctual dislike of supposedly medicinal things in pill form. It just seems so artificial and I cannot imagine that food scientists can really give you all the benefits that nature has put into natural foods. We all know that vitamin supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet, but nobody's perfect when it comes to healthful eating. Many of us take a daily multivitamin as nutritional insurance, but research suggests that multivitamins may not be all they're cracked up to be.
Recent research findings raise questions about the use of multivitamins, and whether or not to take one daily has become a harder call. Many multivitamins contain some micronutrients in excess of the recommended intake, which can lead to unsafe levels. Some studies have shown that there's little or no evidence of protection against cardiovascular disease or cancers from a number of vitamin supplements. As the negative findings of studies of vitamins have piled up, they have raised questions about the use of multivitamins as a safety net.
Experts agree that the best way to get the nutrients we need is through food. A balanced diet - one containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - offers a mix of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that collectively meet the body's needs. But many of us doubt whether we can get all the nutrients we need from food alone.
For one thing, the "percent daily values" featured on food labels are based on a 2,000-calories-a-day diet. Many women can't eat that much without gaining weight. What if your energy needs are closer to 1,500 calories a day? What if you're dieting? Can you eat enough to take in the recommended micronutrients without falling back on a multivitamin?
The Good News
It's not an issue of food quantity, but rather food quality. Even a low-calorie diet can deliver all the vitamins and minerals you need, with one exception - vitamin D. So plan to take a vitamin D supplement. Getting the rest of your nutrients through diet requires some planning and some knowledge about food. The focus should be on eating a variety of natural nutrient-dense foods (see below) versus refined, processed foods.
Chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach
Mushrooms (crimini and shiitake)
Cantaloupe, papaya, raspberries, strawberries
Seeds (flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower)
Dried beans (garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto)
Almonds, cashews, peanuts
Barley, oats, quinoa, brown rice
Salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, tuna
What you can do
One way to set up a plan that precisely meets your nutritional needs is to work with a dietitian, who can take into account your food preferences and allergies or other health issues (such as lactose intolerance). But if you have the time and the inclination to do the work yourself, there are free tools and calculators on the Web that can help.