A 2013 survey of more than 10,000 people who take dietary supplements found that each respondent took an average of 6.6 different ones daily. With 87 percent of those surveyed above the age of 45, it’s clear that adults fear their normal diets are nutritionally inadequate. This concern, however, is most likely overblown.
Although some nutrient deficiencies disproportionately impact certain demographics — such as vitamin D deficiencies in non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American populations or iron deficiencies in pregnant women — the majority of Americans don’t need nutritional supplements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report that found that fewer than 10 percent of Americans suffer from any form of deficiency for iron, folate, or vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, or E.
If you’re still concerned that your diet is not providing you with the proper nutrients, don’t just run out and buy the first bottle of pills you see; you’re better off going to your local grocery store.
Dietary supplements can be chancy in any case. The Food and Drug Administration classifies dietary supplement under a different set of regulations than those for other drugs or foods. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 opened the door to deregulation by putting the responsibility of evaluating the safety of products in the hands of the firms that made them. The act also amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in a way that, remarkably, prevents the FDA from reviewing supplements for safety and effectiveness before being sold.
These lax regulations have allowed the supplement industry’s retail sales to explode from $18 billion in 2001 to more than $30 billion in 2011. Unfortunately, a flourishing dietary supplement industry creates the illusion that these pills and tablets are effective. For almost every supplement you could take, there is an inexpensive food that can provide the same nutrients. Research even suggests that vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A and calcium, are safer and more easily absorbed by the body from foods as opposed to their supplement counterparts.
Enough with the expensive pills; eat these affordable and nutritious foods instead.