- Vitamins A, C, B and zinc are nutrients that Americans generally get enough of through their diets.
- Nutrition experts say Americans should try to get all nutrients from food rather than through supplements.
- Taking extra vitamin C and zinc probably won’t prevent a cold, and excess amounts are flushed out.
The supplement industry is exploding, but nutrition experts don’t recommend getting your vitamins and minerals from pills.
Supplement sales hit a record $55 billion in sales in 2020, and the industry has seen huge gains since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emma Laing, a clinical professor at the University of Georgia and a registered dietitian, said most healthy adults get their nutrients from food rather than supplements because food provides biochemicals and fiber that don’t come from food. of a pill.
“Foods like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes are generally considered affordable foods that are also nutrient-dense,” Laing told Insider. “It would be difficult to manufacture a supplement that mimics the exact nutrient profile of these foods and provides the same health benefits.”
Plus, Americans may not realize that they already get enough vitamins and minerals from their diets. Insider spoke with three dietitians to understand which vitamins and minerals Americans typically get enough of in their diets that make supplements unnecessary.
Although Americans generally get enough vitamins A, C, B and
through the Western diet, experts say people should strive to get all the nutrients through a balanced diet. People with deficiencies diagnosed by a doctor, or those on a restricted diet due to a food allergy or intolerance, might need supplements, according to Laing.
Vitamin C supplements may reduce the severity or duration of a cold, but going over the supplements won’t help
In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration stopped requiring sellers to list the Daily Value of vitamin C and vitamin A on nutrition labels due to the rarity of deficiencies in these vitamins. Both nutrients are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, and it doesn’t take much to get your daily needs: just one orange contains the most vitamin C you need for the day, according to Medical News Today.
Due to the immune-boosting properties of vitamin C, some people take this supplement to prevent colds. Kirstin Vollrath, a registered dietitian and professor at the University of Houston, said taking vitamin C and zinc together at the start of a cold might reduce its symptoms or its duration, but would not stop the virus. A 2013 review of placebo-controlled trials found no evidence that vitamin C supplementation prevents colds.
“Our bodies are much more sophisticated than we realize,” Vollrath said. “Your body knows how much vitamin C it needs, and once it has enough to function, the rest is going to be excreted mostly through urine.”
Most Americans Get Enough Vitamin A, But Supplements Cause Overdoses
As with vitamin C, the FDA has stopped requiring food manufacturers to label the daily percentage of vitamin A due to the rarity of deficiencies.
Vollrath said that although vitamin A deficiency around the world is a common cause of blindness, the average Western diet contains enough nutrients.
In fact, Vollrath said Americans are more likely to overdo it with vitamin A. Vitamin A toxicity typically occurs when taking too many supplements and can cause nausea, headaches, and blurred vision.
“When people think of vitamins, it’s never more is better,” Vollrath said. “We always need enough, and sometimes more is harmful.”
Typical American diets contain enough vitamin B, excluding B12
There are several types of B vitamins, including thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), and cobalamin (B12). The B vitamin helps convert food into energy, boosts immunity and helps make new cells, according to Harvard Medical School.
Michelle Averill, associate director of the University of Washington’s Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics, said Americans are generally “doing well” with getting enough B vitamins, especially if they eat fortified cereals. in nutrients. Averill said research has indicated there is “very little benefit” to taking vitamin B supplements.
Vitamin B12 is a different story, Averill said, because vegetarians and vegans might not get enough of the nutrients because they’re mostly found in animal products. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause anemia, sensory issues, and nerve damage.
Adults usually get enough zinc, and taking the mineral won’t stop a cold.
Averill said young children can benefit from more zinc, but deficiencies of the mineral shouldn’t concern most adults.
“We’re not really deficient,” Averill said. “There’s very little evidence to suggest you could take it and prevent things.
She said many people have tried taking zinc supplements to prevent or minimize a cold. A recent analysis of 28 controlled trials found that zinc had a moderate to no effect on alleviating symptoms of a cold, although it may shorten the duration of symptoms.
But according to Averill, the zinc needs to be in the body before exposure to the virus to have the best results. Additionally, taking zinc supplements through nasal sprays can cause permanent loss of smell, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some populations may still need supplements for their health
Although most healthy Americans wouldn’t benefit from supplements like vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B and zinc, Laing said there are groups of people who might need them. Groups include people with a deficiency diagnosed by a doctor, those with a restricted diet due to a food allergy or intolerance, infants, and people planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant. Certain health conditions and medications may also require supplementation, according to Laing.
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