If we pay attention to the normal food we eat, we can balance our diet without any need to take supplements. We can get all of the nutrition, all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements we need. And it will taste a whole lot better too.
Will we get enough?
If we eat more calories than we burn up in our daily activity, we will put on weight and eventually become obese, so we need to ensure that we don’t overeat. But equally we need to consume sufficient to balance that energy requirement. For an adult male, the necessary intake varies depending on the level of physical activity with the average being around 2000 calories per day for a woman and 2500 calories per day for a man.
Using a calorie counter, we can easily estimate the amount of calories in a meal but a far easier method of maintaining weight is to watch for signs of it increasing and to reduce the size of portions we are eating.
In general, in Western countries, the bigger problem is keeping weight down, rather than getting enough to eat.
How much do we need?
Vitamins are required in very small quantities and some can be stored in the body. Some stay in the fatty tissues, whereas other vitamins are water soluble and leave the body quicker.
The general recommendation to ensure we get an adequate amount of daily vitamins is to try to eat five portions of vegetables and fruit per day. We should eat some starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta or bread to provide energy, and we should eat protein foods such as meat, pulses, dairy products, or fish.
Where do we get our vitamins?
If we think we are not getting enough of a particular vitamin, then we can eat more of the foods that contain them. Typically food contains a mixture of vitamins so for example, eating a potato will give us vitamin C, B1, B6 and folate, along with some iron and potassium. It’s a very healthy little bundle.
Even the lowly lettuce will give us vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2 and B3. A tomato will give us vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E and K. So it really is quite unnecessary to take vitamin supplement pills to make sure we get enough. If we eat at all reasonably, we’ll have loads of vitamins already.
Can we check for vitamin deficiency?
It is very tempting to turn every feeling into a symptom and start looking for a cause. Feeling slightly tired, then of course, it must be a deficiency. Of course not. That sort of reasoning just leads to anxiety.
In fact, almost all symptoms of vitamin deficiency are very mild and undetectable without a sophisticated blood test. If there is any question of vitamin deficiency, it will need to be diagnosed by a doctor and confirmed with a blood test. Anyone who says you are suffering from a dietary deficiency without that diagnosis and confirmation is making a guess.
Even if you were suffering from a temporary deficiency of some vitamin, then eating the appropriate food will make it good. There are no long term effects from such minor temporary deficiencies in any case. By far the most likely situation is that you already have far more vitamins in your diet than your body needs and that you are actually excreting the ones you don’t need.
Getting rid of supplements
If you are currently taking supplements, you can inform yourself by writing down for each vitamin what you are currently taking per day in the form of pills. Next you can list your typical food and identify which vitamins are already covered. If you have a balanced diet, there won’t be any missing.
If you are still worried that you might be short of particular vitamin, select a food which contains that vitamin. A quick check on the web will list many foods that contain that particular vitamin. So simply have a meal containing that food. Even better, plan to eat it, or an equivalent regularly. No more need of the supplement pills.
As an additional incentive, work out the cost of the pills themselves and estimate how much food you could buy instead of the pills. You probably won’t want all that extra food and may prefer just to cut out the unnecessary expenditure.