- Vitamins A, C, B and zinc are nutrients that Americans typically get enough of through their diet.
- Nutrition experts said Americans should try to get all nutrients from food rather than through supplements.
- Taking additional vitamin C and zinc will likely not prevent a cold, and excess amounts get peed out.
The supplement industry is exploding, but nutrition experts don’t recommend getting your vitamins and minerals from pills.
Supplement sales reached a record-breaking $55 billion in sales in 2020, and the industry has recorded huge gains since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emma Laing, a clinical professor at the University of Georgia and a registered dietitian, said most healthy adults get their nutrients through food rather than supplements, as food offers biochemicals and fiber that don’t come from a pill.
“Foods like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes are generally considered affordable foods that are also nutrient-rich,” Laing told Insider. “It would be difficult to manufacture a supplement that would mimic the exact nutrient profile of these foods and yield the same health benefits.”
Plus, Americans may not realize they are getting enough vitamins and minerals through their diet already. Insider spoke with three dietitians to understand which vitamins and minerals Americans are typically eating enough of through their diet, making supplements unnecessary.
Though Americans typically get enough vitamins A, C, B and
through the Western diet, experts said people should strive to get every nutrient through a balanced diet. People with deficiencies diagnosed by a doctor, or those who have limited diets due to food allergy or intolerance, could require supplements, per Laing.
Vitamin C supplements might reduce the severity or length of a cold, but overtaking supplements won’t help
In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration stopped requiring sellers to label the daily value of vitamin C and vitamin A on nutrition labels because of how rare deficiencies of these vitamins are. The two nutrients are found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, and it doesn’t take much to get your daily requirement: just one orange has most vitamin C you need for the day, per Medical News Today.
Because of vitamin C’s immune boosting properties, some people take the supplement to prevent colds. Kirstin Vollrath, a registered dietitian and professor at the University of Houston, said taking vitamin C and zinc together at the start of a cold might reduce its symptoms or length, but won’t stop the virus. A 2013 review of placebo-controlled trials did not find evidence vitamin C supplementation prevents colds.
“Our bodies are much more sophisticated than we give them credit for,” Vollrath said. “Your body knows how much vitamin C it needs, and once it’s got enough to be able to function, the rest of it is going to be excreted mostly through urine.”
Most Americans are getting enough vitamin A — but supplements are causing overdoses
Like with vitamin C, the FDA stopped requiring food manufacturers to label the daily percentage of vitamin A due to the rarity of deficiencies.
Vollrath said though globally vitamin A deficiency is a common cause for blindness, the average Western diet contains enough of the nutrient.
In fact, Vollrath said Americans are more likely to over do it on vitamin A. Vitamin A toxicity occurs usually when taking too many supplements and can cause nausea, headaches, and blurred vision.
“When people think about vitamins, it’s never more is better,” Vollrath said. “We always need enough, and sometimes more is harmful.”
Typical American diets contain enough vitamin B, excluding B12
There are several different types of vitamin B, including thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), and cobalamin (B12). Vitamin B helps convert food into energy, boosts immunity, and assists in making new cells, according to Harvard Medical School.
Michelle Averill, the associate director of the University of Washington’s Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics, said generally Americans are “doing fine” with getting enough vitamin B, particularly if they are eating grains fortified with the nutrient. Averill said research has indicated there is “very little benefit” from taking vitamin B supplements.
Vitamin B12 is a different story, Averill said, as vegetarians and vegans might not get enough of the nutrient since it’s found primarily in animal products. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause anemia, sensory problems, and nerve damage.
Adults typically get enough zinc, and taking the mineral won’t stop a cold
Averill said young kids can benefit from getting more zinc, but the deficiencies of the mineral should not concern most adults.
“We’re not really that deficient in it,” Averill said. “There’s very little evidence to suggest that you could take it and prevent things.
She said many people have tried taking zinc supplements to prevent or minimize a cold. A recent analysis of 28 controlled trials found zinc had a moderate to no effect on easing the symptoms of a cold, though it can shorten the duration of symptoms.
But according to Averill, zinc has to be in the body before exposure to the virus to have the best results. Plus, taking zinc supplements through nasal sprays can lead to permanent loss of smell, according to Mayo Clinic.
Some populations may still require supplements for health
Though most healthy Americans wouldn’t benefit from supplements like vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B, and zinc, Laing said there are groups of people who may require it. The groups include people with a deficiency diagnosed by a doctor, those with limited diets due to food allergy or intolerance, infants, and people planning for pregnancy or who are pregnant. Certain health conditions and medicines may require supplementation as well, according to Laing.
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