I used to take no less than 4 vitamins on a daily basis: a multivitamin, vitamin C, calcium & vitamin D, and a B-vitamin complex. No joke. And this was when I still ate meat regularly! It wasn’t that I’d woken up one day and decided to needed to start taking all of these things, but I’d gotten into the habit. When I was a kid, my mom gave us multi-vitamins and C, and when I was a teenager, it was suggested to me at one point that I take a calcium supplement. As far as the B-complex goes, my mom suggested that to me at some point during my junior or senior year of high school that I try that as a way to deal with some stress-related symptoms.

When I moved to New York two years ago, I took a look at the collection of bottles I’d schlepped from Boston and thought, “Do I really need all this stuff?” Vitamins are not cheap—neither is New York rent. It was also around this time that research started appearing more in the media suggesting such supplements may actually do more harm than good in people with adequate diets . That was as good a reason as any to let my supplies run out.  

In one of the first nutrition courses I took, we analyzed our own diets—sans supplements—to see how we measured up against the guidelines. I was happy to find that I was taking in adequate amounts of almost all the nutrients we tracked just by eating real food. Though I still have some C in the cabinet and was taking a vitamin D supplement this winter per my doctor’s recommendation, I have come to be a supporter of the belief that a balanced diet is really the best defense again illness.

To paraphrase something I heard Mark Bittman say, “It’s not the beta-carotene, it’s the carrot.”

Here’s an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about the overuse of vitamins for children. Of course, in some cases, a particular supplement may be necessary, but a kid eating a healthy, varied diet doesn’t need to be popping a whole bunch of pills.

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