The question ‘Do I Need to Take Vitamins?’ is often asked by people who consider that they eat a healthy diet and who are not sick. The conventional wisdom on the matter is that if we eat what is considered a healthy diet then we should be able to get all the nutrients that we need from the food that we are eating. In an ideal world I agree that this should be the case – unless we have some idiosyncratic nutritional requirement.
However, what is a healthy diet and how can we be sure that we are getting the nutrition that our body needs? Do you know what you should be eating? There is a great deal of confusion about what is needed in a healthy diet – every health professional and ‘expert’ has a different opinion – should we eat the Mediterranean diet, a low GI diet, the Atkins diet, the caveman diet. Added to this are issues about eating refined and processed foods, wheat and cereals, animal protein and dairy products.
It is my experience that many people say they eat a healthy diet and have plenty of vegetables, yet in practice this may not be the case. They may only eat two or three vegetables at the evening meal. They almost certainly have none for breakfast and generally only a small amount at lunchtime and often very little fruit as well. I read a story about one patient. The only vegetable she ate – at every meal, was a serving of frozen peas. She was told that she needed to ‘eat more vegetables’. On her next visit she proudly claimed that she was now eating sixteen different vegetables each day. However, it was discovered that she made a vegetable stew from the sixteen vegetables. She then froze the mixture and served up a single spoonful of this for her dinner each evening!
Unfortunately there is too much consumption of animal protein, fast foods, convenience foods and restaurant meals. These make a diet that is too rich in fat, sugar, salt and calories. At the same time we are eating fewer fruit and vegetables, beans and whole grains. There is also a consumption of more overall calories. The increase in the portion size of common foods is one of the main contributors to overeating and obesity. This trend that we see in all Western nations makes America one of the “most overfed and undernourished” nations (Piscatella and Franklin, 2003).
Piscatella and Franklin provide the following list of what is eaten on a typical day in the Unites States.
- 13 pizzas the size of the Roman Coliseum
- 47 million hot dogs
- 3 million gallons of ice cream
- 1.2 million gallons of hard liquor
- 6 million pounds of chocolate
Dr Kicklas, Director of Dietary Studies, for the Bogalusa Study recorded the dietary intake of a 17 year old boy over a 24 hr period.
“For breakfast, he had a fast-food egg-and-bacon sandwich and orange juice on the bus to school. Many of his friends left the school campus for lunch at a fast food place, but he ate lunch at school: chicken nuggets, baked potato with butter and cheese, two rolls, a canned pear and whole milk. His other choices were pepperoni pizza or a cheeseburger with fries. His afternoon snack took place at a deli: a chicken sandwich globbed with mayonnaise, and a bag of potato chips. Dinner at home was two fried pork chops, another potato and two slices of bread.”
The fact that he didn’t eat any green vegetables and little fruit in the day isn’t surprising. Unfortunately this is more the rule than the exception. It is estimated that 25% of adults do not consume even one serving of vegetables per day and for those who do eat vegetables, French fries contributed 1/4 of all vegetables eaten. No wonder so many people have heart disease and diabetes. The boy in the example above is not getting the vitamins and minerals that his body needs. If he continues to eat the same way he will most definitely, over time, develop problems with his health.