By: Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD
Americans aren’t eating as many fruits and vegetables as we should be. In fact, Americans nationwide are significantly below the fruit and vegetable consumption guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USDA.
Enter supplements. As people seek alternative sources of crucial vitamins and minerals, supplement intake has skyrocketed. Supplements can be helpful, but getting nutrients in a pill rather than food is not always the best way to improve your health. In some cases, it can even hurt.
Here are five vitamins and minerals you may be overdoing if you pop them as pills.
Iron plays a key role in younger women’s diets for menstrual cycles and pregnancy, but the recommendations for iron after menopause decrease significantly. Despite the lower guidelines (8 mg per day after age 50) many postmenopausal women still take supplements that contain iron. The risks of getting too much iron include a condition called hemochromatosis, which can damage your organs. Further, a 2010 study linked excess iron and copper to increased incidence of alzheimers disease and heart disease.
“Getting nutrients in a supplement rather than food is not always the best way to improve your health. Here are five vitamins and minerals you may be overdoing if you pop them as pills.”
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD
Best bet: If you’re over 50, ditch the multivitamins with iron and copper unless a doctor instructs you to take them.
Beta-carotene and vitamin A — which is formed by beta-carotene — is easy to consume. If you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, anything orange (carrots, sweet potatoes) for lunch and then a multivitamin or supplement for eye health, you’ve probably consumed too much. Too much beta-carotene has been associated with increased risk for lung cancer and overall increased risk of death.
Best bet: Skip the supplement and stick to food sources such as sweet potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, red bell peppers, carrots and spinach.
When most people think of vitamin C, they think of oranges. But if your first thought is a vitamin C pill, you may be overdoing it. A recent study found that men who took vitamin C pills had higher risk for developing kidney stones.
Best bet: Enjoy the culinary delights of vitamin-C rich foods such as papaya, strawberries, brussels sprouts and kale. But don’t take extra unless a doctor advises you to.
While calcium is important for strong bones, data suggests getting too much of it can strain your heart. Studies have suggested that women who take high amounts of calcium increase their risk of cardiac death and moderately increase their risk for heart attack.
Best bet: To avoid overdoing it, get your calcium through food sources such as dairy, tofu, sardines, broccoli and almonds. If you think you need supplemental calcium, talk to a doctor before buying a bottle.
The recommended daily allowance for any vitamin or mineral will depend on your age, medical conditions and other factors, and a doctor or registered dietitian can help you fine-tune your intake.
You may also notice a common theme here: Most vitamins and minerals are best obtained and absorbed through real food. To ensure you’re getting enough — but not too much — of any vitamin or mineral, avoid supplements that contain “mega doses” unless your doctor recommends them for medical reasons.