Do we really need vitamin supplements?
It seems the world is divided between those who advocate the daily use of vitamins and those who say that all you need should come from your plate as the plants we eat provide us with vitamins and minerals, both synthesised in the plant and drawn from the surrounding soil, to support the body's essential processes. So, who’s right?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not necessarily a simple yes or no. During the past 50 years in developed countries, there have been many changes in the way vegetables and other crops are grown and distributed. A landmark study on the topic by D. Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) was published almost two decades ago in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. In his report Davis stated: “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.” For this very reason, we have heard that fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us consume today due to soil depletion year after year. Several studies confirm that one would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents would have gotten from just one. Another similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal, found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19 percent, iron 22 percent, and potassium 14 percent.
Another problem relates to modern intensive farming and scale economy. Have you not eaten pineapples from Philippines or asparagus cultivated in Peru? Produce is picked unripe, shipped thousands of kilometres around the world, and placed in storage or on shelves for weeks, which means even greater degradation of the nutrient profile. In our modern world we can all enjoy asparagus or tropical fruits all year round. The question however remains: is it really a healthy choice? not to mention the environmental footprint from air transport.
Finally, we are often offered peeled or halved fruits and vegetables. It is important to understand that the interiors of uncut produce are protected from oxygen and light, which are directly responsible for nutrients losses. Vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E are potent antioxidants, which means they react to oxygen, and consequently the ones that suffer the heaviest hit in cut fruits and vegetables.
And so, here comes the best possible answer regarding the need for vitamins supplements: We believe that by eating a diet predominantly comprised of whole-foods, high in vitamins and minerals, and taking a high-quality multivitamin, you are giving yourself the best chance of good health. Vitamin supplements can help address insufficiencies of some of the most lacking vitamins and minerals; and this doesn’t mean that vitamin supplements are an adequate substitute for a diet rich in plant sources. Fruits and vegetables contain things other than vitamins and minerals that are still essential to ensure the optimal functioning of your body. And my last advice: when buying fruits and veggies go to your local farmers market, try to grow some in your garden or balcony as gardening is also good for your soul health, and in desperation remember to buy seasonal produce, avoid cut fruit, and if packed choose the ones with the longest expiry date.