Diet

The final word on supplements vs. whole foods

When you're not eating right, is it enough to pop some vitamins to make up for lost nutrients? Read doctor Paul Offit's hard-nosed answer here.

A girl's guide to greens

(Photo by Masterfile)

It’s not easy to maintain our health, especially when it comes to our eating habits. Many of us struggle to get our recommended daily dose of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, all of which comprise a healthy and health-preserving diet.

Whether it’s because we feel we’re too busy to eat a well-rounded breakfast before starting our day, or simply because we’ve never really developed a hankering for a green smoothie at 7 a.m., we often look to fill out an incomplete, haphazard diet with vitamins and supplements.

I’ve guzzled a fizzy vitamin C drink when I’m feeling too sluggish (read, lazy) to get off the sofa and make a salad (rinsing the lettuce is a pet peeve, ugh!) or carve up a handful of red peppers (an excellent source of vitamin C).

But experts suggest that that reliance on vitamins and supplements, while occasionally necessary when we’re suffering from such ailments as anemia or other nutritional deficiencies, may do more harm than good when we’re otherwise healthy.

Frankly, after reading this article by author Paul Offit in The Atlantic, I’m committed to turfing my fizzy vitamin C-drink habit and will in future rinse, chop, slice, and dice my vitamins into a bowl instead.

Offit’s article, an excerpt from his new book, Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, contains some startling information about the potential health risks of chronic vitamin and supplement use.

Offit points out in the past decade or so there have been several major studies that have linked vitamin and supplement use to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and death.

What’s going on? What possible harm could vitamins and supplements be doing to our bodies? Offit hypothesizes that people who take them may be ingesting too many antioxidants, undermining some of the benefits of free radicals, and therefore disrupting the immune system’s natural ability to fight off threats to our health.

Do you agree with Offit’s take on supplement use? Tell us what vitamins you take in the comment section below. 

But Offit does have some good news — numerous studies suggest that people who choose to eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of cancer and also an increased lifespan. So, when given the choice between a bowlful of peppers and a fizzy drink, reach for the bowl. Then flop on the sofa.