Vitamins are substances not normally produced in the body that are required for proper cell
metabolism. The amounts we need are very small and are found in the foods we eat. With certain
exceptions, vitamin supplements are seldom needed. Unfortunately, that's not what most people
have been led to believe. Nearly four out of every ten persons in the U.S. take vitamin pills.
There is no evidence that taking these vitamin supplements has any positive effect on the length
of time we live or on normal physical or sexual performance. There may be little or no harm in
taking most normal one-a-day dosages of vitamin supplements. If you chose to take a daily
multi-vitamin, do not take "mega-dose" formulas. Men should avoid multi-vitamins that contain
iron. The greatest benefits, however, go primarily to those who make and sell them.
Advertisers tell us that Americans do not consume enough of the vitamins we need, but those
who do not take supplements almost never experience effects of vitamin deficiencies (scurvy,
pellagra, night blindness, beriberi, etc.) The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowances) were set
at very high levels, well in excess of what most persons need, to provide a margin of safety.
Makers of vitamin supplements use the RDA figures to instill a fear that we may not be getting
enough of these vitamins from our foods, but almost all medical and nutritional professional
organizations agree that these supplements are not needed for persons eating a well-balanced diet.
One exception, for people who eat no animal products, is vitamin B12, the only vitamin not
available from plant foods. When a person stops eating animal products, at least a five-year
supply of B12 is usually stored in the body. B12 can be supplied by a number of fortified breakfast
cereals, some special nutritional yeasts or from B12 tablets. A few micrograms (millionths of a
gram) daily are all that is needed. However even among lifelong vegans (vegetarians who use
no animal by-products, including egg or dairy), B12 deficiency is extremely rare.
There is some evidence that Vitamin E may help reduce the risk of heart attacks. While there is
no consensus on the benefits of Vitamin E, there seems to be common agreement that taking up
to 400 IU (international units) a day may be beneficial and would not be harmful to most people.
If later research confirms these preliminary findings, persons with high heart risk will have
gained those benefits. Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant and is also thought to be helpful in preventing
some kinds of cancer. Some evidence indicates that anti-oxidants work better in combinations,
such as Vitamin C, beta carotene and Vitamin E together. Vitamin E comes in capsules, tablets
and soft-gels, small gelatin balls containing the liquid vitamin, allowing it to be absorbed rapidly.
The gelatin in soft-gels and capsules is most often made from animal products and for that reason
many vegetarians prefer vitamins in tablet form.
Minerals are inorganic compounds (not containing carbon) that make up the major part of the
surface of the earth. Minerals are absorbed by plants from the soil and water and then become
part of the foods we eat. Of the more than sixty minerals present in the human body, only 22 are
Minerals make up about 4% of our total body weight. A 150-pound person's body has about 6
pounds of minerals, some present in very small amounts. The body needs only about four ten-
millionths part of iodine, but calcium needs to be present in nearly two hundredths part. Although
mineral deficiencies are uncommon, without proper nutrition three minerals may be lacking in
some people. Additional calcium, present in green leafy vegetables and animal products, may be
needed if too much protein has been ingested. Iron, present in peas, beans, green leafy vegetables,
nuts and whole and enriched grains, as well as red meats, is needed for blood. Zinc, present in
whole wheat, meats, shellfish and eggs, is needed to heal wounds, for sexual development and
to help keep our senses of taste and smell sharp. Iodine deficiency used to be common, causing
goiter and thyroid gland problems. In the past 70 years, iodized salt has supplied all the iodine
the body needs, amounting to about a half teaspoon of salt a day from all sources. Much of that
iodine comes from salt in processed foods.
Mineral supplements are also touted as a way to prevent and cure disease and live longer, but
as is true for vitamins, all the minerals we need are well provided for when we eat a balanced
diet. Some makers claim that chelated minerals, those bound to a metallic substance, provide
better absorption and are better utilized, but there is no evidence that these are any more useful
than any other type of supplement. Don't be led to buy these supplements by high pressure sales
Mineral and vitamin supplements are a high profit, billion dollar industry. Supplement distributors
take advantage of the feeling many people have that they are not getting adequate nutrition from
the foods they consume. For people who get most of their meals from fast-food chains or junk
foods, this is probably true. Nutritionists, physicians and medical researchers generally agree that
healthy people eating a balanced diet of whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits do not need
mineral or multivitamin supplements. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements provides some
people with a false feeling of security that leads them to be less careful about what they eat.
Fiber is essential in reducing the risk of some kinds of cancer, intestinal disease, gallstones,
diabetes, obesity and heart disease. There are two types of fiber. Sponge-like insoluble fiber, from
grains, legumes, fruits and the outer surface of some seeds, promotes food passage and adds bulk,
which reduces food craving. Processed grains and foods often have most of their fiber removed.
Use whole grains, brown rice and unprocessed foods to assure sufficient fiber intake. Whole
wheat bread and brown rice have three times the fiber of white bread and white rice. Soluble
fiber acts as a filter to help prevent some substances, including cholesterol and glucose, from
being absorbed into the blood. It also acts as a stool softener, preventing constipation, which is
related to colon cancer and diverticulosis. Constipation often leads to straining to clear the
bowels, a common precursor of strokes. Eating foods high in fiber may help prevent these
problems and reduce cholesterol as well.
Refined and processed fruits and juices may also be low in fiber. Comparing an orange and an
8 ounce glass of reconstituted frozen orange juice, the juice has 0.848 grams of fiber while the
orange has 9.790 grams, more than 11 times the fiber in the juice. A fresh orange also has a third
fewer calories than a glass of orange juice. A few juices do contain high amounts of fiber;
infiltered carrot juice has about 75% of the fiber of raw carrots and tomato juice may have even
more fiber than raw tomatoes.
Most spaghetti and other pastas are made from flour from refined grains, which has two-thirds
of the fiber removed. To get all the natural fiber, choose whole wheat pastas, bulgar wheat and
other whole grain products. For maximizing weight loss, eating foods high in fiber is even more