Updated: Aug 3, 2021
By Braeden Yacobucci, RDN/RD, LD
When I was a young boy, my morning routine was not complete without taking my multivitamin. I can still remember my mom’s voice reminding me every morning to take my flintstone gummy. I am sure most of you had similar experiences and some of you may still be taking multivitamins or individual pills daily. According to the 2017 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 76% of U.S. adults report that they consume some sort of dietary supplement. More specifically, 68% of those 65 or older take vitamin supplements according to a 2013 Gallup poll. These numbers are quite high and pose the question: Why are Americans so hooked on vitamin and mineral supplements? The answer could be simply that many Americans lack the knowledge of where to find these vitamins and minerals naturally and incorporate them into their diets. Vitamins and minerals are crucial to a multitude of functions in the human body, and if the body does not receive enough vitamins and minerals, there are two options. One option is to take supplements to account for the lack of nutrients. The second option is to simply start incorporating them into the diet! In this article we will cover the potential drawbacks of vitamin and mineral supplements as well as going over the most common vitamin and mineral supplements taken by Americans and where to find them in nature instead of in a pill.
There are benefits and risks to taking vitamin and mineral supplements. For example, if you are a vegan or vegetarian and do not get enough B vitamins due to the lack of meat in the diet, supplements come in handy. However, I am always one to recommend nature over science every time and it is no different with vitamin and mineral supplements. There are multiple risks to taking these supplements. One potential risk is in regards to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The FDA does not regulate vitamin/mineral supplements before they are sent to the store shelves, meaning they can make claims that may not be backed up by strong scientific evidence and could potentially not be as effective as they claim. Another risk is in the dosing of vitamin/mineral supplements. Many supplements offer a very large dosage per pill and overdosing on vitamins/minerals can have negative consequences. For example, an overdoes of vitamin C can lead to nausea and diarrhea. Many Americans do not realize they already receive a certain amount of vitamins/minerals from their normal diet and therefore do not think about overdosing when they take their usual supplements. A third risk is the reliance on supplements to obtain vitamins/minerals instead of food. Supplements CANNOT replace food. The calories obtained from food are essential in your body having enough energy to perform its daily functions. Vitamins/minerals only help to perform certain bodily functions. Lastly, supplements are simply expensive. Who wants to spend hundreds of dollars a year on vitamins/minerals that could simply be obtained from a well-balanced diet? Now that we’ve covered the potential risks, let’s cover the most common supplements taken by Americans and where they can be found naturally.
Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI): 4,700 mg/day
· Maintains fluid balance in the body by counteracting excessive sodium intake
· Activates nerve pulses in the central nervous system
· Helps regulate muscle contractions (including the heart, so that’s kind of important)
· Reduces blood pressure
Natural Sources (mg per 100 grams):
· Yams - 670 mg
· Pinto beans - 646 mg
· White potatoes - 544 mg
· Portobello mushrooms - 521 mg
· Avocados - 445 mg
Generally, potassium is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables as well as many kinds of fish. Notice that bananas are not on this list (they are a source of potassium, but only a very small amount).
2. Vitamin D
RDI: 400 IU/day (international units) for children-12 months, 600 IU/day for ages 1-70, 800 IU/day for ages 70 or greater.
· Needed to absorb calcium
· Helps to build strong and healthy bones
· Your body (sunlight causes your body to naturally produce vitamin D)
· Salmon – 3 oz = 477 IU’s
· Tuna – 3 oz = 154 IU’s
· Orange juice fortified with vitamin D – 1 cup = 137 IU’s
· Milk (vitamin fortified) – 1 cup = 115 IU’s
· Egg yolk – 1 large egg = 41 IU’s
Most people turn to dairy products to obtain their daily intake of vitamin D. This is a viable option if the product is fortified with vitamin D, which many milk products are. Focusing on building a strong skeleton for yourself in younger years will help immensely once your bones begin to degrade mid-thirties to early forties.
3. Vitamin K (and no, I don’t mean potassium)
RDI: 90 micrograms/day for women age 19 or older, 120 micrograms per day for Men age 19 or older.
· Required to produce prothrombin, a clotting factor needed for blood clotting and bone metabolism.
· Help regulate blood calcium levels.
· Kale – half cup = 531 micrograms
· Spinach – 1 cup = 145 micrograms
· Broccoli – half cup = 110 micrograms
· Pork chops – 3 oz = 59 micrograms
· Chicken – 3 oz = 51 micrograms
Clearly, these are all foods commonly found in grocery in American grocery stores. It is easy to get the recommended amount of vitamin K per day but where most people fall short if the dark, leafy vegetables. They are PACKED with vitamin K. One big ol’ salad a day and you’re good to go.
RDI: 400 mg/day for men age 19-30, 420 mg/day for men age 31 or older, 310 mg/day for women age 19-30, 320 mg/day for women age 31 or older.
· Maintains normal nerve/muscle function
· Keeps immune system healthy
· Helps keep regular heart beat
· Aids in increased bone strength
· Regulates blood glucose levels
· Dark chocolate – 1 oz = 64 mg
· Avocados – 1 medium avocado = 58 mg
· Cashews – 1 oz = 82 mg
· Black beans – 1 cup = 120 mg
· Bananas – 1 large banana = 37 mg
Along with these sources are, again, dark green leafy vegetables. Magnesium is an extremely important mineral in our bodies, assisting in over 300 chemical reactions. That’s a lot of reactions that can’t happen if we don’t give our body what it needs.
RDI: 14 mg/day for men, 8 mg/day for women.
· Keeps immune system working properly
· Plays a role in cell division/cell growth
· Wound healing
· Breakdown of carbohydrates
· Ground beef – 100 g = 4.8 mg
· Shrimp – 100 g = 1.96 mg
· Lentils – 100 g = 1.68 mg
· Hemp seeds – 30 g = 4.34 mg
· Cashews – 1 oz = 1.96 mg
Zinc is a trace mineral, which is why it is commonly forgotten as a needed nutrient in our diets. The human body does not store zinc, meaning we need to eat enough every day to keep the zinc related functions going.
There are plenty other vitamins and minerals that the human body requires to function properly and keep you moving every day, but if we went over every single one you would be reading for wayyy too long. I like to think of the human body as a machine. There are thousands of parts and pieces it is hard to keep track of them all. However, a well-balanced diet can easily keep the machine running smoothly every day. Why not prevent illness before it strikes? A proper diet can do that for you. Personally, I love NOT being sick and being able to live my life to the max every day with proper energy extracted from proper nutrition. Now go out there and get after it.