One of my favorite shows in the 1990s was “Seinfeld” when thinking about how we are meant to take in vitamins I couldn’t help but think of Jerry, performing a stand-up routine before the first scene of the show.
It would go something like:
”Vitamins. What’s the deal with ‘em? Do I take the basic ‘all in one centrum silver’ like my father? Do I try these new whole food based vitamins?!
They’re supposedly better for me and looking at the price tag they better be!
What about just eating whole foods that have vitamins and skip the chalky pills all together?
I’d ask my doctor, but if it’s not something he can get brownie points from the pharmaceutical reps for prescribing he’s not interested.
I own a Vitamix…does that help?”
*classic Seinfeld guitar riff*
Cue George walking into the apartment in a crazed hysteria…” I’m vitamin deficient Jerry…VITAMIN DEFICIENT!”
Jerry: “Which ones?”
“All of ‘em Jerry, all of ’em!” George would reply in his classic exasperated helpless tone.
Before I get too far down this rabbit hole of fan fiction, let’s get to the point:
If you are feeling vitamin deficient or just not sure if you’re taking vitamins the correct way, this post will arm you with the information you need to be confident in your vitamin intake.
Why are vitamins so important anyway?
Vitamins and minerals are the unsung heroes of our biological ballet. While macros like protein and carbs get all the attention, vitamins and minerals are doing the dirty work behind the scenes acting in concert, performing hundreds of roles like your body’s own personal orchestra. They help shore up bones, heal wounds, and bolster your immune system. They also convert food into energy, and repair cellular damage. Unfortunately, many people take them for granted.
There are 13 essential vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K, with 8 vitamins in the B complex) and many minerals the body requires for optimal health. If you eat a balanced, healthy diet, you are probably already getting adequate amounts of the essential nutrients your body needs to function at its best level. If you are following a restricted diet or have certain health conditions, however, you may need a multivitamin or other dietary supplements. We must be careful to monitor how much of each vitamin we are taking in because you can have too much of a good thing.
That said, there are a few major factors to consider when choosing your vitamin intake method.
3 Reasons You Should Be Careful with Synthetic Vitamins
- Synthetic Minerals Can’t Be Excreted Right Away
The body excretes excess natural vitamins, while synthetic vitamins get stored in the liver as substances that can be toxic to the body.
The body utilizes only what it needs from organic vitamins. Excess vitamins are processed and discarded, but that’s not the case with synthetic supplements.
Synthetic vitamins contain a high concentration of the chemical that mimic natural vitamins. You basically get a higher dosage of these vitamins than those obtained from fruits and vegetables as well as organic food sources.
They get stored in the body until they can be processed with the right nutrients.
This can be dangerous to the body because a buildup of chemicals the body can’t excrete can eventually cause diseases.
- Synthetic Vitamins Don’t Contain Trace Minerals
Natural vitamins come with various enzymes, minerals, lipids, protein, and other nutrients to help the body digest and utilize them. Synthetic vitamins are isolated forms of those they are mimicking.
Unlike organic vitamins obtained from food which contain trace minerals and other nutrients, clinically-made vitamins do not contain any other nutrients.
If you’re not taking other supplements like magnesium, iron, or folic acid, taking only pill-form vitamins may result in some serious nutrient deficiency problems.
- Synthetic Vitamins Eventually Become Toxic
Fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, need fatty acids to be absorbed properly by the body. When taken through natural food sources, the body can adequately metabolize them, with any excess excreted accordingly.
Meanwhile, synthetic forms of these vitamins are made in high concentrations.
Since they’re isolated and contains no fatty lipids for proper processing by the body, they are stored in the liver.
Over time, these excess vitamins build up in the liver and eventually become toxic to the body.
You need to eat food containing minerals, nutrients, and enzymes to help metabolize synthetic vitamins.
Whole foods versus supplements
When we obtain our vitamins and minerals from whole foods we are getting a perfect harmony of nutrients that our body can use and absorb to provide us with optimal health.
For example, when we eat an orange we are not only eating Vitamin C — we are eating thousands of other nutrients as well. We can’t possibly expect that we could receive the same health benefits from taking a pill made solely from ascorbic acid (Vitamin C pills).
Whole foods are composed of proteins, fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and a host of other phytochemicals all working simultaneously in harmony together in the concentrations that our bodies need.
The interactions that take place in our bodies as we digest food is barely understood by scientists. It would seem completely arrogant to assume that we could improve upon nature and isolate the ‘active’ compounds to provide health in a pill.
Despite the fact that most people believe, as the industry tells them, that supplements will make us healthier — there is little to no evidence that this is the case.
Except in cases of eradicating deficiencies — e.g., curing scurvy with vitamin C, or beriberi with B1. Most supplements are all but ineffectual and can cause harm, or even death.
It is a sad fact that while supplements may be of some use in treating deficiencies when there is no whole food alternative, they are absolutely useless at mitigating the diseases of excess like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. You can’t wipe away the ill effects of too much fat, too much animal protein and not enough fibre with simple pills.
Rather, by manipulating the perfect balance of nutrients carefully packaged by Nature in the form of whole foods, we are actually creating imbalances that are in many cases causing harm. Let me show you.
Why Supplements Fall Short
High intake of beta carotene from whole foods is associated with reduced rates of cancer.
Taking beta-carotene in the form of supplements has been shown to greatly INCREASE the rate of cancer.
Vitamin E from foods boosts the immune system and is great for healthy skin and your eyesight, and associated with reduced cancer risk.
Vitamin E in the form of supplements has been linked to an increase in the risk of stroke, increased risk of prostate cancer, and when taken by pregnant women may increase the risk of congenital heart defects in their babies.
Green tea is full of antioxidants. It can reduce cancer risk, increase brain function, and increase the metabolism, among a few of the benefits.
Green tea extract has not been found to have the same benefits and in fact, has been shown to risk liver health.
High intake of folate from whole foods has been associated with a decrease in risk in oesophageal cancer.
Folic acid supplements have been associated with and INCREASED risk of oesophageal cancer.
Dietary intakes of carotenoids and Vitamin C have been associated with decreased risk of urinary tract infection in men.
Supplements of these nutrients made the infections worse.
Identify your Vitamin Deficiency and the Whole Foods to Fix it
- Vitamin A
Vitamin A shows up in food as beta-carotene. The body must convert it into vitamin A to be useful. This sounds less effective, but vitamin A can be toxic in large doses.
Beta-carotene allows the body to convert what it needs and discards what it does not as a natural safeguard against damage.
A few sources of vitamin A from food include:
- sweet potatoes
- butternut squash
Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency:
- dry skin
- night blindness
- dry eyes
- slow wound healing
- acne breakouts
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is a water-soluble vitamin created by plants and is bound to phosphate. Digestion releases the thiamin using specialized enzymes that target phosphate.
A few sources of vitamin B1 from food include:
- brown rice and other whole grains
- nutritional yeast
- sunflower seeds
Symptoms of Vitamin B1 Deficiency:
- muscle weakness
- poor reflexes
- tingling sensation in the arms and legs
- blurry vision
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Riboflavin is easily absorbed, stays in the bloodstream for long periods of time, and is readily used by the body for the proper functioning of many important enzymes.
A few sources of vitamin B2 from food include:
- whole grains
Symptoms of Vitamin B2 Deficiency:
- skin rash
- dry tongue
- vision issues
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacinamide or nicotinamide is found in food and commonly called niacin. Niacin can have side effects, but these are minimal when coming from plant foods.
A few sources of vitamin B3 from food include:
- brown rice
- green vegetables
Symptoms of Vitamin B3 Deficiency:
- Vitamin B12
Natural Sources of Vitamin B12
Cobalamin B12 is only created by microorganisms like the bacteria that grow in soil and our intestines, as well as some micro-algae and perhaps some seaweed species.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency:
- smooth tongue
- vision loss
- Vitamin C
In nature, it is combined with flavonoids and phytonutrients that help in its absorption and use.
What are flavonoids? These are water-soluble polyphenolic plant compounds known to have antioxidant properties.
A few sources of vitamin C from food include:
- bell peppers
Symptoms of Vitamin C Deficiency:
- easy bruising
- rough, bumpy skin
- slow-healing wounds
- swollen joints
- Vitamin D
Natural Sources of Vitamin D
Technically, this one isn’t always thought of as a vitamin since the body can make it. Mushrooms, yeast, and lichen produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Humans do, too. A daily dose of about 20 minutes of sunlight provides all we need. Vitamin D3 is the most effective kind, the same that comes from our own skin and lichen. Mushrooms and yeast often yield D2.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency:
- bone and back pain
- prone to illness
- muscle loss
- slow wound healing
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E refers to eight different fat-soluble compounds, and it acts as an antioxidant that protects fats from oxidation.
A few sources of vitamin E from food include:
- sunflower seeds
- whole grains
Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency:
- muscle fatigue
- impaired vision
- Vitamin K
This vitamin is important to proper blood clotting and some metabolic pathways. It is found primarily in dark leafy greens.
A few sources of vitamin K from food include:
- turnip greens
- Brussels sprouts
- green tea
Symptoms of Vitamin K Deficiency:
- severe bleeding from minor wounds
- easy bruising
- blood in stool/urine
When in Doubt, Go with God
Your daily vitamin intake should come from food sources as much as possible. Supplements won’t repair a poor diet and should never replace food for nutrition.
If you need them in a pinch, of course. Just ensure you always eat a diverse, nutrient-dense diet.
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