Vitamin supplementation is a controversial topic, as there are many products found on the market that claim to "help" us prevent deficiencies and maintain normal body functioning. Though vitamins are essential to a healthy life, how much do we actually need? Research shows that we can get adequate vitamins and minerals just by eating a varied diet, yet many people take additional vitamin pills and other supplements to help them reach their daily levels.
In most healthy adults, eating a variety of protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains will give us the vitamins and minerals that we need, while taking supplements in addition to eating a varied diet can actually be harmful, increasing our intake to sometimes toxic levels. This includes protein supplements, which have become quite popular in our culture. If we are eating enough protein sources during the day from meat, dairy, beans, tofu, legumes, etc., often times the additional powders aren't necessary.
While this is the case for healthy adults, there are instances where vitamin supplements may be necessary and required. Supplements are recommended during certain life stages such as pregnancy, lactation and in older adults. For those with vitamin deficiencies either due to poor nutrient absorption, inadequate food intake, or other medical conditions, vitamin supplementation is required. It is also important for vegans or strict vegetarians to take supplements, especially that of B12, since the nutrient may be missing from their diet. Even is missing a food group completely due to an allergy or food preference, a supplement can be helpful. Across the world, where vitamin deficiencies may be more likely, supplements can be life-saving in low income or impoverished areas.
In these cases, vitamins can make up for deficiencies that may occur. In cases among the general public though, supplementation may not be required and there are some things to be mindful of when it comes to supplements available on the market: Many supplements are not regulated by the FDA and some have been found to have harmful additives and ingredients. Some supplements may be less researched and are unaware of long-term effects that they may cause. Many can have false claims, promising to improve strength, provide energy, or make your hair and nails stronger. If someone is eating a varied diet and taking a supplement on top of that, it may cause toxicity if the tolerable upper levels are reached, something that usually is seen only with over-supplementation.
Overall, whole foods are the best source of vitamins and minerals in our bodies and the safest way of consuming them. Vitamin supplementation can be beneficial in certain stages of life, with certain medical conditions, or for specific diets, but otherwise as a normal, healthy adult, eating a variety of foods can provide us with all of the nutrition that we need. If you have a nutrient deficiency or are missing out on certain food groups in your diet, it is important to do adequate research and to speak with a professional in the medical field about vitamin recommendations to benefit your health.