What you really need to know about vitamins


Vitamins. Everyone has heard of them, most people know they need a healthy balance of them, but many individuals also have a lot of misconceptions about the nutrients they need. Recently, reporters with the Huffington Post spoke to a number of health experts who explained some of the myths and facts about vitamins, and what people really need to know in order to have the perfect balance of nutrients.

"There’s so much interest in nutrition today," said dietitian Joan Salge Blake, a professor at Boston University, quoted by the news source. "Baby boomers, especially, are interested in living longer and better than the generation before. They are savvy about seeking out information; they follow health news and use the Internet to learn more. I think many are willing to do whatever it takes to stay healthy."

You always need a healthy diet

The information provider stated that some people believe that if they take a multivitamin, they don't need to eat a well-rounded diet because the supplement is filling in the nutrition gaps. In reality, Blake said, vitamins can't replace a good meal. When adults eat healthily, and get a good amount of nutrients from food, then they can trust that their bodies will absorb what they need.

Vitamins are meant to enhance a healthy diet and provide more of the nutrients people need each day – not all of them. The news source suggested that people take their vitamins with food. When vitamins are taken on an empty stomach, the acids may dissolve the pill and send its nutrients unevenly to different organs, making them less efficient. When taken with a meal, vitamins bond with the food and offer the best chances of proper absorption.

Many aren't better than one

According to the news source, for most healthy adults a multivitamin is sufficient to help them get the nutrients they need. However, there are some exceptions in which people may want to take single-nutrient supplements. These include calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Everyday Health states that all vitamins are needed in the body. However, it's not just vitamins people need, but minerals as well. The information provider recommended that people make sure to get sufficient amounts of iron, copper and zinc, all of which can be found in either food or supplement form.

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Physician assistant calls antioxidants ‘the James Bond of the body’


In the battle against everyday pollutants, toxins and unhealthy behaviors, antioxidants are one of the best weapons. That's because these vitamins work in the body to fight free radicals, highly charged ions caused by many of the toxins people encounter on a regular basis. Even though antioxidants have been a major health topic for many years now, there are probably a fair amount of people out there who still don't understand exactly what these vitamins are and what they do.

Recently, CNN published an article by dermatology physician assistant Sarah Neumann, who explained how antioxidants are the "James Bond" of the body.

Stealth health heros

"They team up against disease and diffuse free radicals while combating the aging process.Their name: Oxidants – antioxidants. Just like James Bond, they work to save the world and beautiful women from bad guys. Only this time the beautiful woman is you and the free radicals (bad guys) are invading your body. They're working to keep you feeling healthy and looking young," Neumann wrote for the news source.

According to the National Institutes of Health, there are many antioxidant substances. These include lycopene and vitamin C, which can be found in many foods such as tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit, watermelon, bell peppers and some cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli.

For people who aren't big fans of fruits and vegetables, there are alternative sources of antioxidants. Coffee, green tea, beans, ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger and even chocolate are all rich with antioxidants, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Multiple benefits

Neumann wrote that antioxidants can help the body from the inside out. For example, she stated that while sunscreen and moisturizer keep the skin looking young, a person's diet can also have an impact. Studies have shown that consuming antioxidant-rich foods  fight off the effects of aging on the skin. Furthermore, antioxidant serum may help with dull complexions, fight wrinkles and potentially even out skin tone.

The physician assistant added that antioxidants don't only fight off the effects of aging, but also prevent some of the harms caused by everyday pollutants. These vitamins have been shown to help protect the body from pollution and secondhand smoke.

Clearly, there are many reasons to get more antioxidants into your diet. Taking a multivitamin may also help you consume more of these healthy, important substances.

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What’s the best way to get antioxidants?


Most people have heard about antioxidants by now, since they often pop up in health news stories. According to the National Institutes of Health, antioxidants are substances that may help the body fight off some of the toxins  it encounters every day that threaten human health. While many studies have suggested that antioxidants have many benefits for people, some individuals may not know the best sources of these substances.

Recently, The New York Daily News reported on a study that examined the best ways to get antioxidants into the diet. The researchers found that a drink containing green tea, hibiscus, pomegranate and pineapple had the highest concentration of antioxidants, while blackberry and raspberry-based juices had the lowest amounts of these substances. This is interesting, considering that the Berry Health Benefits network states that blackberries are a great source of antioxidants, as are raspberries.

The Daily News pointed out that clearly, consuming fruit is one of the best ways to get antioxidants.

"In a paper out of Norway, scientists compiled a database of more than 3,100 foods, drinks, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Among the most antioxidant-rich food are black currants, wild strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, dried apples, artichokes, and dried fruits like plums, apricots, dates and mango," according to the news source.

What about people who don't like fruit? They can still consume antioxidants through a number of other sources. The information provider pointed out that coffee, red wine, sunflower seeds, walnuts, certain breakfast cereals and okra have all been shown to have concentrations of antioxidants. Vitamins such as vitamin C and A are also considered antioxidants, so taking a multivitamin may help people get more of these substances. 

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Men view meat as a masculine food choice

A vegetarian diet can be an excellent way for individuals to increase their intake of important vitamins and antioxidants, while reducing their consumption of harmful saturated fat. However, men are historically less likely to try the diet approach than women. Why is this?

New findings published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that few men become vegetarians because eating meat is generally viewed as a masculine activity. Many individuals saw giving up meat permanently as being the equivalent of surrendering a piece of their manhood.

In the study, researchers spoke with participants about their views on different food items. During these discussions people used more masculine words when talking about meat and many reported outright that they perceive men who eat meat to be more masculine than men who do not.

A second arm of the study examined 23 different languages that use gendered pronouns. They found that words relating to meat frequently took masculine forms.

"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food," the researchers wrote in their report. "Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy."

The findings have important implications for men's health and nutrition. If males are less likely to eat fruits and vegetables because they view produce as feminine it may be exceedingly difficult for them to maintain adequate levels of several key vitamins and antioxidants.

This affects more than just those who would consider vegetarianism. Men who view meat as masculine may be more inclined to order a steak or hamburger when they are out to dinner rather than a meal that incorporates healthier options. Over time, this could lead to nutritional imbalances. 

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Vitamin use continues to grow

The use of multivitamins and other supplements continues to increase, according to the findings of a new survey. The investigation also revealed that consumers today feel more confident than ever before in the benefits of the nutritional aids they use.

After surveying more than 1,000 people from across the country, investigators from Wakefield Research found that 63 percent of respondents regularly take a multivitamin or supplement. This is up 3 percent since the last time this survey was conducted last year.

Additionally, 93 percent of those who reported taking supplements on a regular basis said they believe their product they used was good for their health. This is up from last year's survey, when only 71 percent expressed confidence in their choice of supplements.

Standard multivitamins were the most popular supplements used. Vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium, B vitamins, fish oil, iron and coenzyme Q10 were the next most popular products.

The researchers said the findings highlight the degree of nutritional support most people need. Even those who eat very healthy diets may have a difficult time consuming all the vitamins and minerals their bodies require on a daily basis. This is why supplements are so important.

"It's difficult for most people to consume the recommended daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially while juggling work and family," said registered dietitian Sharon Richter. "These findings reaffirm how important many feel it is to maintain a vitamin or supplement regimen to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients needed on a daily basis."

Most adults should strive to consume at least three to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, according USDA recommendations. However, many people have a difficult time achieving this target. 

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Supplements can make up for dietary deficits

Multivitamins and other nutritional supplements can be a great way for individuals to maintain proper health. In addition to a balanced diet, these products can support a broad range of health areas.

Dr. Mike Ormsbee told local news station WCTV of Southwestern Georgia that most people have some nutritional gaps, regardless of how healthy their diet is. It can be very difficult to ensure proper vitamin and mineral intake from diet alone. This is why supplements can be so important.

"It's gotta be proper diet, proper exercise…plenty of sleep," Dr. Ormsbee told the news source "If that's assumed, then someone may want to supplement to have any kind of additional benefit. Supplements are maybe that last little one to five percent that really helps you out."

He added that some people, such as athletes, may have more intensive nutritional needs than the average individual. These people are even less likely to be able to maintain adequate vitamin and mineral levels through diet alone. Supplements are particularly important for those in this position.

The one situation in which supplements should not be used is as a replacement for fruits and vegetables. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that no amount of multivitamins can completely replace the health benefits of fresh foods. Once a person has started eating a nutritious diet, supplements can help fill whatever holes remain.

Ensuring balanced intake of vitamins and minerals can play an important role in healthy aging. Nutritional supplements, when taken alongside a proper diet, can ensure that a person is getting the right amount of compounds their body needs to maintain functioning in multiple areas of health.

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Supplement use continues to grow

No matter how nutritious a person's diet is, there are likely to be gaps in what they eat. It is nearly impossible to get all the vitamins and minerals the body needs from food sources alone. For this reason, many people turn to nutritional supplements.

This has led to growth in the sale of multivitamins. Several grocery store owners told Supermarket News that sales of supplements have increased in recent years, as people look to fill the holes in their diet in order to support strong health.

"Shoppers are very interested in multivitamins in our stores, particularly those that are need-specific like senior vitamins, men’s or women’s. Vitamin D, calcium, vitamin C, glucosamine and probiotics are popular too," Tina Miller, healthy living advisor at supermarket chain Meijer, told the news source.

She added that many customers are also interested in herbal supplements. These may include products like Rhodiola rosea and schisandra. Supplements containing these ingredients have been shown to support healthy energy levels and mood. Miller said that these types of supplements have become popular among individuals who feel like they are not getting enough out of their daily diet.

Of course, people should use these types of products wisely. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that people should not try to use a pill to replace fruits or vegetables in their diet.

However, when a person takes vitamin supplements in addition to eating right, they may experience strong support for health. The products can play an important role in maintaining overall well-being of the heart, brain, immune system and joint function. These benefits help explain why the popularity of supplements continues to grow.

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Experts recommend nutrients to support healthy vision

Many people accept certain things as natural parts of the aging process. This is particularly true when it comes to eye health issues. These problems are particularly prevalent among the elderly, but experts say certain vitamins and minerals, when consumed earlier in life, may help support healthy vision during old age.

At a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the Ocular Nutrition Society, experts highlighted the benefits of zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, omega-3s and vitamins C and E for eye health, according to Medscape.

The experts said that many people do not understand the role vitamins and minerals can play in supporting eye health. This is particularly concerning given the fact that most people fail to eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are the most abundant sources of these nutrients.

Through education and awareness campaigns, the group believes this lack of awareness can be reversed. This may help individuals start focusing on getting more of the groups of nutrients they need to support healthy vision.

"There is not one 'magic bullet' nutrient but a combination of nutrients that work together to support eye and body health," said Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, president of the society, according to the news source. "We must remember that the eye is a part of the body and closely related to brain tissue. Whole body treatments can be very effective in treating eye conditions."

Most types of fish are good sources of omega-3s and some even have high levels of zinc. Green leafy vegetables tend to be among the best sources of vitamin E and most fruits and berries have high levels of vitamin C. Brussels sprouts are excellent sources of both the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

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Vitamins should not replace healthy eating, experts say

Multivitamins can play an important role in a person's overall health. No matter how many nutritious foods individuals eat, it is still difficult to get all the nutrients the body needs. Still, experts caution that taking a vitamin supplement should not be used as an excuse for unhealthy eating habits.

Brent Steepe, a personal trainer from St. Claire Shores, Michigan, recently wrote in Grosse Pointe Today that the term "supplement" should give people an idea of how to use the products. The word means "in addition to," not "in place of." This means that individuals should not try to replace healthy fruits and vegetables with nutritional supplements.

Instead, the products should be used to fill holes in an already healthy diet. When used in conjunction with a healthy diet, vitamins can deliver some important health benefits. However, people should take a look at the types of food they are eating and make dietary adjustments when necessary.

"Of course, there are situations when supplements are necessary," Steepe wrote. "If your doctor tests for nutrients and finds you deficient while you are eating a healthy diet, supplements may be required. [But] take a look at what’s on your plate. A few changes at the dinner table may be all you need."

A recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that about half of adults in the U.S. take vitamin supplements. The numbers also showed that many people may heed the advice not to use them to replace healthy foods. Many respondents said they took them to fill nutritional holes or to boost overall well-being. Few used them to avoid healthy eating.

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Proper nutrition is important during periods of exercise

With warm weather just around the corner, many people may start to become more physically active. This can be great for their overall heart health, but it also increases the need for taking vitamin supplements.

When a body is active, its nutritional needs increase. Exercise doesn't just burn calories; it also uses up nutrient stores. Therefore, it is important for highly active individuals to replace the nutrients they lose.

Exercise is a great way to burn fat, but this may also use up fat-soluble vitamins. These include vitamins A, D, E and K. These nutrients are stored in fat cells and can be lost when high levels of fat are eliminated.

People also use up a lot of minerals when they are active. The body goes through nutrients like potassium and sodium when it is sweating. These compounds are important for maintaining hydration. Therefore, individuals should look to replace them when they are exercising.

A simply multivitamin should be sufficient for replacing most of these nutrients. Ensuring proper levels of various vitamins and minerals may be the best way for individuals get the most out of their exercise.

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