The Biggest Myth About Vitamins
Many health-minded Americans suffer from a mild, yet persistent case of "vitamania," a borderline obsessive infatuation with vitamins and minerals. And that's understandable. As kids, most of us ate breakfast from cereal boxes plastered with claims about the wealth of vitamins and minerals contained inside. A curious glance at the label reaffirmed our decision to eat a second bowl. Each serving contained Vitamin A, Iron, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Niacin, and Vitamin B12! Wow!
Adulthood would see vitamania come into full swing. Out in the world with only vague directions to eat fruits and veggies and avoid too much sugar, we locked onto labels as guides on our personal health quests. A peek at the side of our multivitamin bottle would comfort us again: 100% of our daily values of dozens of vitamins and minerals. Health targets attained!
But with every label that's read, a latent myth is perpetuated. That myth? The notion that we need 100% of our daily value -- or Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) -- of every vitamin and mineral to attain optimal health.
As journalist Catherine Price explained in her recent book Vitamania, that simply isn't so.
"In fact, the RDAs themselves -- which many of us use as personalized scorecards for our diets -- are actually not meant to be personal at all. Instead, they're designed to meet the nutritional needs of 97 to 98 percent of all people, which means that the majority of us could get by just fine on less."
How much less? The average healthy American adult would probably do just fine consuming the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) of vitamins and minerals each day. These EARs are roughly 20-30% lower than the RDA amounts used on food labels.
But if you can't eat the EAR, don't worry. It's not actually imperative to eat certain vitamins every day. These are the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K. When consumed, they are readily stored in the body for long periods of time and siphoned off as needed.
The vitamins we need more regularly are Vitamin C and the seven B complex vitamins. These are water-soluble, meaning that whatever our body doesn't need is excreted in urine. Luckily, water-soluble vitamins are fairly easy to come by. The B vitamins are found in whole grains, meats, and leafy green vegetables, while just a single orange will supply enough Vitamin C for one day.
With all the constant hubbub about vitamins, have you ever wondered why we actually need them? In Vitamania, Catherine Price succinctly summed up the reason. The human body functions thanks to ever-churning chemical reactions. These reactions are sped with the help of compounds known as enzymes. Vitamins are essentially the fuel for these enzymes. Without vitamins, the enzymes can't jumpstart the chemical reactions. And without the chemical reactions, the body ceases to function properly.
Considering how vital vitamins sound, it's easy to see why everyone seems to think we need so much of them. But, in reality, you don't need nearly as much as your box of Fruity Pebbles leads you to believe.