Get vitamins from food, not supplements: nutritionist

colourful vitamins

Consumers should get their vitamins from food, rather than eating a low-quality diet and adding supplements, a New Zealand nutritionist writes

Writing in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Anne-Thea McGill argues against the need for vitamin supplements, saying consumers should be able to get what they need from food.

This would improve health in a way that supplementation will not, she says.

Ms McGill argues that we have evolved to thrive on a wide variety of foods, which means we cannot rapidly adapt to consuming vast amounts of low-nutrient packaged food, with some supplements thrown in on top.

“So what is wrong with just adding in vitamin supplements to prevent scurvy and all the other vitamin deficiencies?

“There have been thousands of vitamin, mineral and nutraceutical supplement epidemiological and intervention studies, and massive marketing hype keeps the supplement (and pharmaceutical) industries funded,” Ms McGill writes.

“However, overall human health will only improve with appropriate food. Only the few longitudinal and/or interventional studies of low input whole and heritage type food consistently show health improvement.”

She writes that “there are multiple reasons that supplemental vitamins, minerals and extracts seem to fail to improve markers and signs of developmental and degenerative disease.

There are also complex synergies within the food components: phytonutrients, enzymes, minerals, fibre, the microbes, and gut epithelium complex and payers patches, all of which play a part in what nutrients are absorbed and toxins excreted.”

“If humans specifically evolved to physically and mentally thrive on a wide variety of micronutrient dense/low additive food, then expecting us to adapt to degraded/foreign chemical (xenobiotic) laden foodstuffs is unrealistic.

“We can only expect more infant developmental disease, and earlier and more severe degenerative disease, no matter what money is spent on ‘high tech’ cancer prevention research or public health messaging to change our ‘life situation status’.”

Friends of Science in Medicine’s Ian Carr, a Taree pharmacist, told the AJP that he “absolutely agrees” with Ms McGill’s philosophy.

“When people request multivitamins or ask me whether a multivitamin is likely to help them, I usually start counselling them about what their diet is like,” he says.

“I think the people who are concerned about their vitamin intake are probably already well-educated enough not to be missing very much from their diet.

“I’ve no doubt that there are people out there with poor diets, but it’s really a case of educating them to feed themselves better – there is no evidence that patching things up with a multivitamin has any positive effect anyway.

“And we know that say, fish oil extract in a supplement is not as good as fish eaten three times a week.”

The Complementary Medicines Association’s recently welcomed CSIRO data that showed a need for improving Australians’ diet: the Fruit, Vegetables and Diet Score report showed only 51% eat the recommended fruit intake, and 66% don’t eat enough vegetables.

“Many people take a multivitamin because they know they don’t always eat as well as they should,” said CMA’s Carl Gibson at the time.

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