This Is Why Eating Healthy Is Hard (Time Travel Dietician)
Chuck the Vitamins, Just Eat Well
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A trio of studies released earlier this week found that multivitamins don't confer significant health benefits, causing experts to declare the supplements a "waste of money" in an accompanying editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors of the editorial argue there is no evidence to support taking a daily multivitamin for chronic disease prevention, and they advise the general public to avoid them. So if you're one of the millions taking a supplement for "extra insurance" or to "fill nutritional gaps," it may be time to let that habit go.
The most recent findings are in line with previous studies, and they reinforce the message that health and nutrition experts have been preaching for years: food, not supplements, is the best source of vitamins and minerals. What's more, food provides many nutrients that aren't found in a standard multi, including fiber, healthy fats, and plant compounds called phytochemicals.
Yet many people feel like they don't eat well enough, consistently enough, to get all the nutrients they need. I won't say it's easy, because eating a healthy, balanced diet does take work, but it's a lot simpler than you might think. By following these basic guidelines, you can ensure you're eating a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals -- without worrying about the nitty gritty details. I call this the Multivitamin Diet:
- Eat dark green vegetables (at least) every other day. Spinach, collards, kale, chard, broccoli, and other dark green veggies are probably the closest thing to a multivitamin that grows out of the ground. Their leaves and stems are packed with nutrients, including vitamins A, K, C, B, and E, iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and of course fiber. Enjoy them in salads or saute them in olive oil with garlic for an easy side dish.
- Eat an orange or red veggie (at least) three times a week.Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, red bell peppers, and pumpkin get their vibrant hue from beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A play an important role in vision and immune health, as well as cell growth and maintenance in your vital organs.
- Eat beans or lentils (at least) three times a week. Like green veggies, these guys are rich in vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, iron, and folate, and they're one of the most concentrated sources of fiber as well. At dinner, replace the pasta, potatoes, or rice with a simple side of beans. I often mix canned low-sodium beans (or the bagged frozen varieties) with a dollop of pesto, barbecue sauce, diced tomato and herbs, or salsa for a quick side. You can also add them to salads -- and a 1/2 cup of plain chickpeas makes an easy, tasty snack.
- Snack smart. Make at least one of your daily snacks a fruit or vegetable. A handful of nuts is another perfect nibble -- it delivers healthy fats and fiber, plus zinc, iron, magnesium, and other minerals.
- Eat seafood at least twice a week.Fatty fish is the best source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Eating fish twice a week can be a big challenge, but don't forget that canned or pouch salmon is an easy way to check off a serving.
- Switch to whole grains. They're best known for their fiber content, but whole grains also offer more vitamins and minerals than refined grains. And now that whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals are so easy to find, there's no excuse for not making the swap.
- Focus on calcium. If you consume a few daily servings of low-fat dairy and follow the guidelines above (especially the ones about leafy greens and beans!), you're in good shape for meeting your daily calcium goal (1000 mg for adults aged 19 to 50). If you don't eat dairy, make sure to incorporate plenty of other calcium-rich foods into your daily menus, including leafy greens, tofu made with calcium, fortified nondairy milks, soybeans (edamame) and other beans, and some nuts and seeds. (Make sure you vary up your greens since some, especially spinach and Swiss chard, are high in oxalates, which block calcium absorption. Bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, kale, turnip greens, and mustard greens are lower oxalate choices.)
If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, older than age 50, have special dietary requirements, or have other nutritional concerns, work with your doctor to determine if you have any deficiencies and therefore require daily supplements. And since it's difficult to consume adequate vitamin D from food sources, it's a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked at your annual physical to make sure you're getting enough.
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