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Do I Need to Take Vitamins and Minerals?

Should I Eat According to the Food Pyramid?

The short answer is, probably not.  Not unless you'd like to become fat or obese, that is.

The U.S. government's "food pyramid" recommends that the largest percentage of one's daily calories should come from whole grains.  This is despite the fact that there is a tremendous amount of evidence that grains break down into sugar in the body - increasing insulin resistance, encouraging an increase in fat storage, and increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

According to the highly respected natural health expert, Dr. Joseph Mercola, the reason grains and other unhealthful foods are promoted so heavily is because these are the foods that are subsidized by the U.S. government.

Dr. Mercola has developed his own "food pyramid", as an alternative, which is based on nutritional science.  You can see it in the article linked above, or view it here.

People often wonder whether they should be taking any vitamin and mineral supplements. Are they worthwhile? Which supplements would be best for me?  The answer to these questions are yes, and ask your knowledgeable chiropractor for supplement recommendations.

Why should we even bother with vitamin and mineral supplementation? The objective is to make sure you have all your bases covered -- to make sure your body has everything it needs to be healthy. How can you be sure you diet is providing you with all the vitamins, minerals and cofactors your body needs to function properly? Not to mention all the important antioxidants needed to fight free radical formation and the various phyt­onutrients that seem to help slow down the aging process and lower your risk of cancer and other diseases.

Mineral deficiencies are rampant in the United States, largely due to the majority of our food supply being grown in mineral depleted soil.  It is difficult to obtain necessary minerals such as magnesium, iodine, chromium, calcium and selenium from diet alone.

Many people are also deficient in the B vitamins such as folate, B12 (cyanocobalamin), B2 (riboflavin),  B6 (pyridoxine), B1 (thiamin), and B3 (niacin). Taking a good multivitamin or a B vitamin supplement is an easy way to make sure that these requirements are met.

So which supplement brand is the best? There's really no single right answer to that question.  It depends on the individual's needs, and there are often various practical considerations. You can usually tell that a particular brand is the right choice for you if you notice some improvement after taking it regularly for several weeks. Your chiropractic physician can help you by providing expert advice and recommendations.  The important thing to remember is that vitamin and mineral supplementation is often necessary in order to optimize metabolic functioning and promote physical well-being.

What about taking specific supplements for specific health challenges, such as regularly taking a calcium supplement after a bone-density study has revealed a reduction in bone mass (osteoporosis)? Is this an effective therapy? Well, in the postmenopausal setting1, it is critical to also perform regular weight-bearing exercise in order for your body to be stimulated to actually use the calcium to increase bone density.  If you only take calcium supplements but fail to exercise, the calcium with just be excreted, instead of being used to strengthen the bones.    

What about calcium supplements for younger women?  Once again, exercise is the of utmost importance in helping to prevent or minimize osteoporosis2.  Making sure you are getting a sufficient amount of calcium each day is also important. The recommended daily requirement for calcium is 1000-1200 mg.  So, lets assume that a typical vitamin/mineral supplement supplies 500 mg of calcium. A small container of yogurt adds another 250 mg. A glass of milk or a piece of cheese can add another 250 mg. If you're avoiding dairy, other good sources of calcium include turnips, spinach, sardines (including bones), and calcium-fortified orange juice. So, you can get the recommended requirement by combining both a daily supplement and eating a variety of calcium rich foods.

Magnesium deficiency is another very common mineral deficiency in the United States.  Magnesium and calcium balance each other, so if you do supplement, look for a product that ideally contains equal amounts of both.  Having a lot of muscle tension may be a sign that you are low in magnesium.  Appropriate magnesium levels are also important for promoting cardiovascular health, regulating blood pressure and controlling blood sugar.  Spinach, almonds, pumpkin seeds, swiss chard, cashews, and black beans are all very good sources of magnesium.

Vitamin and mineral supplements are an easy way to make sure you are getting the nutritional support your body needs.  By supplementing your diet appropriately, you can make sure you are receiving a consistent and optimal dose of the most important nutrients. Eating a varied diet of healthy whole foods along with getting regular exercise, will help to ensure vibrant and glowing good health3.

1Rosen CJ: Clinical practice. Postmenopausall osteoporosis. N Engl J Med 353(6):595-603, 2005
2Swanenburg J, et al: Effects of exercise and nutrition on postural balance and risk of falling in elderly people. Clin Rehabil 21(6):523-34, 2007
3Speckerr B, Vukovich M: Evidence for an interaction between exercise and nutrition for improved bone health during growth. Med Sport Sci 51:50-63, 2007