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Vitamins: Health Necessity or Expensive Wee?
Do you even need vitamins? 10 Points that will let you answer this correctly for yourself
While vitamins are an essential component of any diet, vitamin supplements have been thrust under the spotlight with questions around their benefits and efficacy, particularly in today’s health-conscious age. With 6 out of 10 Australians taking some form of dietary supplement, the question remains: Are they really a health benefit or are they simply being passed through and flushed down the toilet?
This post examines the facts and figures around whether you need vitamins, the current nutritional state of Australia, and what it means when the toilet bowl glows neon yellow after taking a vitamin supplement. These ten points are useful to consider when deciding whether you should continue taking your daily multi, find a vitamin more suited to your health and lifestyle, or put your wallet down entirely.
- Our Bodies Can’t Function Without Vitamins
Whether they are natural or supplemented, one thing remains undisputed: the body cannot function without vitamins. Vitamins play crucial roles in the complex chemical processes occurring within the body every second that keep us healthy, happy and moving.
Vitamins are essential for the effective functioning of the immune system, digestive system, nervous system and cardiovascular system. They assist with healthy sleep patterns, energy production, healthy growth, cholesterol control, clear eyesight, healthy brain function, red blood cell production - and all these benefits come from only 5 of the 13 essential vitamins we need.
- The Foods We Eat Are The Biggest Source Of Our Vitamin Intake
Vitamins enter the body through food, with minor exceptions like vitamin D, which is produced by the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Having a good balance of fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, proteins and dairy products each day can allow a person to maintain a healthy, balanced diet that is vitamin-rich.
There are many situations where our vitamin requirements change and our diet is no longer sufficient to provide everything we need to optimise our health. A common example is a pregnancy, where it is recommended to add additional daily folic acid (vitamin B9) supplements to the diet to help lower the risk brain and spinal defects. The same concept, with varying vitamin requirements, applies to those with specific dietary restrictions, medical conditions and disease. With food as the most significant vitamin source, it is important to ask yourself: Are you confident that you’re getting the vitamins you need from your diet?
- 51% of Australians Are Not Eating Enough Fruit
The 2016 CSIRO healthy diet survey examined the eating habits of over 86,000 Australians, and the results were a shock to the public and health professionals alike. It showed that 51% of Australians were not meeting the Australian Dietary Guidelines of consuming just two pieces of fruit daily. This means that one in two people may not be getting enough of the essential vitamins that are packed into fruit.
It’s not just whether you eat fruit or not, but many other factors such as their variety and preparation methods. One apple can provide you with 10% to 25% of your daily Vitamin C requirement depending on its variety. Slicing your apple before eating can decrease this percentage further due to the effects of the oxidising process that turns the apple flesh brown. This is why it’s important to evaluate your personal dietary habits and lifestyle factors when determining if there is a benefit for you in taking vitamin supplements.
Tip: To find out which essential vitamins you may be missing from your diet and lifestyle, take this FREE 30-second tailored quiz and stay smart about your nutrition.
- 92% of Australians Are Not Eating Enough Vegetables
The statistics for vegetable intake proved even worse, with 9 out of 10 Australians failing to meet their daily intake of vegetables. To start meeting the recommended guidelines, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that most adults increase their consumption of green and Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and more) by 30%, red and orange coloured vegetables by 140%, and other vegetable types by 90%.
Unsure if you’re meeting all of your daily vitamin recommendations? Take this FREE 30-second tailored QUIZ to find out instantly.
- If It’s Not Fruit And Vegetables, What Are We Eating?
Men are eating almost 24 servings of discretionary foods every week. That’s nearly 3.5 servings of pies, pastries, fries, ice cream, savoury snacks, cakes, biscuits or alcohol each day. For women, it’s just under 2.5 servings daily. These foods are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, while typically being low in vitamins. The regular consumption of these discretionary foods may also be associated with an increased risk of obesity and chronic disease.
- Australians Are Living Life On The Go
Between 2012 and 2016, the on-the-go food and drink market showed a 55% increase. This means workers are consuming more pre-packaged foods, meal replacement bars and breakfasts-in-a-drink instead of home-prepared meals loaded with essential vitamins and minerals.
This demand for instant food has also brought into existence many health-snacks such as kale chips and protein balls. Consumers should ensure they read the packaging details for items in this category as many health-conscious snacks still boast plenty of sugars and fats among their increased levels of nuts or whey proteins.
- A Third Of Us Are Cutting Out Food Groups
Another trend of note is the third of Australians that have chosen to avoid certain foods altogether. These are primarily dairy, gluten and meat products. These lifestyle decisions are made easier by the rapid growth of new food-specific businesses, like vegan-friendly food products whose market size increased by 92% in Australia between 2014 and 2016. While this has helped to bridge a significant gap in assisting people to conveniently eat within their food preferences, it has made it more difficult for consumers to get enough of the right essential vitamins.
Vegans run a risk of deficiencies in vitamin B12, Iron, Calcium, Zinc, vitamin D and long-chain Omega 3.
Those that are dairy-free are more likely to be deficient in calcium, vitamin D, Riboflavin (vitamin B2), Zinc and Phosphorus.
Gluten-free diets tend to be lower in Iron, vitamins B6 and B12, Folate, Riboflavin, Vitamin D, Calcium, Zinc and Magnesium.
Is your diet making you vitamin deficient? Find out what you could be missing in 30-seconds with this FREE personalised quiz.
- The Confusion With Multivitamins
Despite the risk for vitamin deficiency and the poor dietary habits of many Australians, much confusion still exists around whether multivitamins are worth the money. On the one hand, many prominent figures argue that there is no need for multivitamins in a diet that is already vitamin-rich. On the other, we have a population in which the majority is failing to meet basic dietary requirements from sources that are both plentiful and often require no cooking to consume.
Without a definitive conclusion, the answer to this should-they-shouldn’t-they debate must be personal. Does a person feel that their daily diet meets their vitamin needs, or could their lower energy levels, impaired concentration and a myriad of other symptoms suggest otherwise?
- But Aren’t We Just Peeing The Multivitamins Out?
The scientific truth is that the neon yellow colour of urine that is often observed after taking a multivitamin is caused by the essential vitamin B2, otherwise known as Riboflavin. Riboflavin is found in most good multivitamins because it helps the development and function of skin, the lining of the digestive tract, and blood cell production.
When your body receives more Riboflavin than it requires, the excess is disposed of in your urine. The way that Riboflavin absorbs light means it produces a bright yellow colour. This colour is valid for only this specific vitamin and does not provide any insight into the absorption of any of the other vitamins that you have supplemented. You may have just topped up critical levels of vitamin E or Iron through the same multivitamin.
- It’s All About You
While analysing health data from the general Australian population provides valuable insight, the ultimate answer to whether you’re taking too many or not enough vitamins is determined by your individual health, lifestyle and dietary habits.
A urine and blood analysis, though costly, can provide you with useful information to guide your supplement choices. Simpler options include taking a complimentary tailored health quiz, endorsed by qualified pharmacists, to recommend the most appropriate combination of quality vitamins that meet your specific health needs. This quiz is FREE, takes 30-seconds and is available here.