We’ve all seen the ads for wonder pills that have all the minerals of dozens of fruits and vegetables or smoothies that “count” as three days’ worth of an alphabet soup of vitamins. While these claims are factually accurate, the research is clear: it’s better for your body to eat fruits and vegetables than to take multivitamins.
It’s estimated that over half of adult Americans take a vitamin supplement every day. When they first hit the market, experts thought that these multivitamins would most significantly benefit men with vitamin deficiencies that caused other health maladies. Scientists surmised that these multivitamins may show negligible effects on men with decent health, but figured that in men with poor health, these pills could be a jackpot. However, neither healthy nor vitamin-deficient men exhibited any reduced risk of heart attack, even in 11 years of follow-up studies.
The researchers’ conclusions were two-fold. Firstly, many who take multivitamins view them as a quick-fix cure-all and thus neglect to make the other necessary lifestyle changes to complement the work of the multivitamin, for example, regular exercise and reduced sugar intake. While multivitamins may help when there is a minor shortfall, they’re not meant to completely replace the implementation of a healthy lifestyle.
Secondly, the study was only run on men, and the researchers have noted that women’s risks of cardiovascular problems are wholly different from men’s. For example, women tend to exhibit more instances of vitamin D deficiencies, which leads to more medical problems involving their bones and blood pressure.
In her award-winning book Vitamania, Catherine Price walks readers through the history of America’s’ obsession with vitamins, stemming pack to questionable science and cold-war mentalities. Unfortunately, much of what we consider “common knowledge” about vitamins was at best research sponsored by industries who produced synthetic vitamins and at worst off-handed from op-eds.
The better answer? Fruits and vegetables — and lots and lots of them. Ninety five studies spanning the whole globe were amalgamated and analyzed to understand the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and heart health. When people increased their daily servings of fruits and vegetables from five to ten, their risk of heart disease decreases by nearly 30%, and their risk of unexpected death decreases by a little more than that. Scientists attribute these findings to the nutritious nature of fruits and vegetables as well as their fiber content, which lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
The moral of the story is that there’s just no substitute for healthy eating and regular exercise. No pills or other quick fixes can produce the kind of sustainable health that lots of fruits, vegetables, and cardiovascular activity.