Vitamins and minerals are important substances that provide your body with the tools needed for growth, strength, and repair. Wholesome foods are the best sources of the vitamins and minerals crucial to growth and development. However, many of these nutrients are also available neatly packaged on drugstore shelves in the form of pills, powders, and injections. It may seem easier to pop a few pills than to take the time to peel an orange or prepare a nutritious meal. Unfortunately, supplements may not be the best way to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. Some are not well absorbed, are unnecessary, or may not provide the benefits you seek.
Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that gives fruits and vegetables a bright orange hue and provides antioxidant properties. This substance is converted into the vitamin A used by your body for immunity, growth, and development. It also promotes the formation of red blood cells, skin, and bone. Vitamin A is also an important nutrient in eye health. While some tout the benefits of beta-carotene supplements to fight cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends obtaining beta-carotene from natural food sources such as cantaloupe, carrots, and green leafy vegetables. In fact, some studies have linked high doses of beta-carotene supplements to an increase in lung cancer.
10. Folic Acid
Folic acid is a nutrient important for forming red blood cells and for preventing birth defects like spina bifida. Since this vitamin is important for fetal development, pregnant women often take it for the health of their developing babies. Beyond pregnancy, folic acid has been studied for its benefits in preventing conditions like colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, some studies have shown that rather than decreasing cancer incidence, folic acid supplementation may actually contribute to the risk of colorectal cancer. If you are not a woman of child-bearing age, stick to obtaining this important vitamin from beans, leafy green vegetables, and enriched breads or cereals.
Selenium is a mineral beneficial to immunity, reproduction, and healthy thyroid function. Some individuals may take selenium supplements in the hopes of warding off cancer. However, the National Cancer Society states that studies on selenium supplementation in prostate cancer have had mixed results. In some cases, selenium supplements seemed to be beneficial. In others, selenium supplementation appeared to increase the risk of death from prostate cancer. Additionally, some studies suggest that high selenium levels contribute to the development of diabetes. For healthy doses of selenium, your best choice may be to consume plenty of eggs, nuts, and whole grains.
8. Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is an important vitamin that aids in immune function, brain and spinal cord health, food metabolism, and the formation of red blood cells. Individuals with kidney disease, absorption disorders, and certain genetic conditions may become deficient in this vitamin. According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive vitamin B6 supplementation can cause a loss of muscle control, painful skin sores, and sensitivity to sunlight. Additionally, vitamin B6 supplements can interact with certain epilepsy and cancer medications. Healthy individuals should achieve the necessary levels of vitamin B6 by consuming chickpeas, non-citrus fruits, potatoes, and fish.
7. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 aids in converting food into energy. It is also an important vitamin for nerve activity. Additionally, vitamin B12 contributes to the formation of the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Vegans and individuals with conditions that prevent the absorption of nutrients may suffer a lack of vitamin B12. High doses of B12 can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Certain gout, diabetes, or ulcer medications can prevent absorption of this supplement. This means money spent on this pill may go right down the drain. Meanwhile, eggs, meats, dairy products, and fortified cereals are good food sources of vitamin B12.
6. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is beneficial for building and strengthening collagen and connective tissues, bolstering the immune system, and promoting wound healing. Some claim supplementation with vitamin C may aid in preventing cancer or protecting against heart disease. Consuming vitamin C as part of a healthful diet provides your immune system with the necessary nutrients to prevent disease and maintain good health. However, there is no concrete evidence that high doses of vitamin C supplements will keep cancer or heart disease at bay. Therefore, money spent on these supplements may be money wasted. Good sources of vitamin C include broccoli, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and peppers.
5. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is essential for fighting off infection and forming blood vessels. Claims that vitamin E supplements halt the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart attack, or cancer have not been proved. In fact, some studies show that vitamin E supplements can increase the risk of stroke by as much as 22 percent. To obtain the healthy doses of vitamin E that may help your body stave off disease, obtain this nutrient from foods. Green vegetables, nuts, vegetable oils, and fortified cereals are good sources of this important vitamin.
Due to its benefits to the immune system, zinc often shows up in products that claim to fight the common cold. However, research does not indicate that zinc supplements will prevent a cold. Zinc may reduce the time suffered with a cold by one day when taken within 24 hours of the first cold symptoms. Unfortunately, zinc supplements also have side effects. Zinc may cause nausea, stomach upset, and a loss of taste or smell. According to the Mayo Clinic, more serious side effects include copper deficiency, anemia, and nervous system disorders. For a safe dose of zinc, stick to beans, dairy products, seafood, and whole grains.
Magnesium aids in blood pressure and blood sugar regulation. It is also an important component of muscle contraction, linking amino acids to form protein, and maintaining normal heart rhythm. Magnesium supplements are available and may be helpful to those who are deficient due to alcoholism, celiac disease, or Crohn’s. However, most individuals can obtain adequate amounts of magnesium by consuming nuts, beans, pineapple, spinach, and whole grains. Furthermore, excessive doses of magnesium can cause vomiting, mental confusion, dangerously low blood pressure, and death.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial for lowering cholesterol and relieving painful arthritis symptoms. There are many commercially available products containing the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. Unfortunately, research has been inconclusive as to whether these supplements actually provide any benefit. You may be wise to avoid spending money on these products. Instead, enjoy salmon, nuts, and olive oil as healthy and wholesome sources of the omega-3 fatty acids your body needs.
If only providing your body with necessary nutrition was as easy as popping a multivitamin tablet each day. Unfortunately, multivitamin pills don’t measure up to obtaining nutrients from food sources. In fact, vitamin tablets sometimes pass through the body undigested—now that is money literally flushed down the toilet! Spend your money only on specific vitamin supplements recommended by your doctor. These tend to be supplements specifically targeted to a particular deficiency. Obtain the majority of your vitamins and minerals from fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.