Published: Feb. 13, 2009
Updated: June 2, 2010
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By Duke Medicine News and Communications
You may be wondering at this point whether to toss those vitamins into your mouth or into the trash. That's not surprising since several recent reports have called the value of vitamins into question, leaving people to wonder if it's time to ditch their supplements all together.
"People are so confused," says Elisabetta Politi, the nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. "But vitamins are like insurance, and there's no evidence that taking them is harmful."
"While vitamins are not meant to be magic bullets of prevention, most Americans have poor eating habits and don't get the daily recommended allowance of most vitamins and minerals," Politi adds. "That's why we continue to recommend a well-balanced multi-vitamin."
Multi-vitamins fortified with 800-1,000 international units (iu) of vitamin D are even better. "We know about 50 percent of Americans don't get enough vitamin D," says Politi. That's a problem because low levels of this particular vitamin have been linked to osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, colon cancer, and gingivitis, as well as immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and type 1 diabetes.
However, vitamins cost money, and in this economy, with everyone looking to save their pennies, you can easily cut the expense and the daily pill popping. All you have to do is maintain a healthy diet. Here's how:
"The bottom line is if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, your diet will provide you with the right mix of carbohydrate, fiber and healthy fats," she says.
Even with the best intentions, however, you may still need a multi-vitamin if you're:
Politi says it's important to check your multi-vitamin's nutritional value, making sure it's between 50-200 percent for each ingredient. "If, for example, it has 100 percent of vitamin A, then you know that it contains the recommended daily amount," she says. Also, take your supplement with your main meal of the day to enhance absorption. And, be sure to look at the expiration date. "Just like medicines, vitamin supplements expire and some of their biological properties can be lost or diminished."