Health or Hoax? Multivitamins
By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor
So now that the series on counting-free dieting in college is over (be on the lookout for future addendums and FAQs), I want to shift gears to something profoundly more interesting, in which we examine the true efficacy of popular supplements. I call this “Health or Hoax?” Each week, I will put a new supplement under the microscope and attempt to sift through the nonsense to determine whether or not any merit remains for its usage.
As this first installment was relatively short-notice (the entire idea for this series was the product of last night’s sore throat-induced insomnia), the first supplement will be one I consider to be a pretty open-and-shut case: multivitamins.
“Multivitamin” is a broad term for any supplement that includes an array of essential vitamins and minerals. We often hear that multivitamins work well as “insurance” for an already adequate diet and that real foods are a better bet the majority of the time. So, are these little guys really packed with all the benefits they are touted to carry, or are we better off just sticking to whole, nutritious foods?
Well, let me start off by saying I think multivitamins are a great option for most college students. Although I refute the notion that getting your daily serving of fruits and veggies while eating on a college meal plan is impossible, or even difficult, realistically, most students will not go out of their way to do this. Despite how it may appear, effective nutrition counseling is not always about hearing yourself talk, but rather about picking battles you can actually win. That being said, I would like to explain why real foods are your best bet.
The sentiment that it is better to get your nutrients from real foods than supplements is about as much of a buzz phrase as “the mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell.” Diet gurus are great at blindly reciting it; not so great at actually explaining it. And so, here you have a 20-year-old college student trying to do the job people who have studied this for decades are too lazy to do… sigh.
There are numerous reasons real foods usually win out. Fruits and vegetables tend to carry phytochemicals and generous servings of soluble fiber you will not find in most multivitamins; they are satiating, so you are not craving that bacon cheeseburger quite as much as you would be after just popping a supplement; they will actually put the money your parents funnel into your meal plan to use; not to mention, studies have shown, for a myriad of vitamins and minerals, the natural forms often work more reliably, reduce the risk of excessive dosages bordering on Upper Limits, and are absorbed better when not carelessly thrown into a cocktail of other vitamins and minerals that may very well mar one another’s respective absorption and digestion.
What is the takeaway? Like most things, multivitamins are not the super-pills that supplement companies would have you believe they are, but they also are not totally useless. I will say, using them as “insurance” is a little silly if you are eating an already healthy diet. Significant nutrient deficiencies can be remedied by eating more foods high in those nutrients, or even just supplementing those nutrients in isolation.
Where multivitamins may have a pretty useful role is in the context of a poor diet (so, 95% of college students’ diets). Take that as you may.