I grew up with a mother who believed excellent health could only be achieved through taking vitamins, and every day she set out tiny cups filled with pills for each of us. We dutifully downed these, assuming mother knew best.
We lived on a farm and grew our own vegetables and fruits, which we ate fresh in summer, and frozen or canned during winter. Raw dairy products from our Jersey cows (always named Sally or Betsy) graced the table at each meal, including butter we made ourselves with an old-fashioned hand-crank churner.
Was supplementing really necessary?
Our mother kept up on all things nutrition related, and she knew about soil depletion. After all, we were farmers, and even though we grew mostly alfalfa for feeding livestock, our parents understood the drawbacks of modern intensive farming practices; soil nutrients become depleted with these methods.
When the soil no longer contains generous quantities of vitamins and minerals, plants and harvested fruits and vegetables don’t either.
Soil Depletion Creates a Need for Adult Vitamins and Other Supplements
Soil depletion is a growing problem when it comes to the nutrient content of modern foods. University of Texas researchers conducted an important study just after the turn of the century comparing the vitamin and mineral content of 43 foods grown in 1950 to the same foods grown in 1999. Nutritional data was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and conclusions were alarming.
They found significant declines in the amounts of vitamin C and vitamin B2 (riboflavin), as well as minerals such as iron, calcium, and phosphorus; protein levels were also lower. Other important nutrients, such as vitamin B6 and magnesium are thought to have decreased as well, but since these weren’t measured in 1950, there’s no solid evidence.
In a report detailing these findings published by the Journal of American College of Nutrition in 2004, Dr. Donald Davis, whose team made the nutritional comparisons, made this statement:
“Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”
Another study indicated that in modern times it would take eight oranges to match the nutritional content of one orange our grandparents might have eaten.
So unless you’re eating organic foods grown in soil amended with the missing or poor nutrients we all require for cultivating good health, adult vitamins are becoming more necessary every day (and providing children with supplements to support healthy growth is important as well).
Choose Supplements Wisely
If you’re like me, you want to make sure supplements you buy are a good investment. After I left home as a teenager, I went for years without taking vitamins, but eventually I got enough information and the necessary common sense to realize Mom was right.
With the abundance of choices out there, how can we make smart purchases? As for myself, I learned enough to give me buyer’s confidence from Suzy Cohen’s book Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients – and Natural Ways to Restore Them.
A licensed pharmacist and author of the health column, “Dear Pharmacist,” Cohen has gathered an impressive amount of information on supplements in her book. I appreciate her natural approach, and while the material is designed to help people taking medications (or living lifestyles that negatively impact certain nutrients) figure out which supplements will help correct imbalances, it contains plenty of solid advice, including brand-name recommendations.
Here are some basic strategies to help you make wise choices:
- Put your bargain-hunting soul behind bars. Quality supplements are pricey, and if you’re looking to cut costs, there’s a good chance you’ll end up buying inferior products.
- Ask your naturopathic doctor or integrative physician for recommendations. Since consumers are looking for the best price when they shop in retail outlets, these type of sellers don’t usually stock the good stuff, because they can’t sell it. A naturopathic doctor’s office may be your best bet for purchasing quality vitamins.
- Do your homework and find out what’s in the vitamins you’re considering purchasing. Buy only from trusted sources, and read labels to weed out products with additives, colorings, preservatives and flavorings you don’t want or need. If you have questions, call the company; customer service should be happy to provide the information so you can make an informed choice.
- Make sure you’re getting the real thing. Many health professionals recommend taking vitamins derived from whole foods because the body can absorb and utilize these, whereas chemical-based imposters are a total waste of money.
- Keep in mind that Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) and Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) are based on the amount of the nutrient required to prevent sickness or disease, not for cultivating optimal health. Since some vitamins can actually have negative effects when taken in excess, it’s a good idea to talk to your health professional to get some guidelines you can use in real life.
It may sound like a difficult task to find quality supplements, but it’s worth the time and effort. And keep eating those fruits and vegetables, even if they’re not as packed with vitamins and minerals as they were a half-century ago! They are still extremely important. Going organic is the best plan, and adding quality supplements will help you feel confident you’re getting what you need to be strong and healthy.
Please let me know what you think about supplementing with vitamins, or ask any question you may have, by using the comments section below.