The latest Small Bites survey found that 45% of respondents pop a multivitamin every day, while 31% feel no need to supplement their diet with an "all in one" pill.
An additional 17% reported taking multivitamins not on a daily basis, and 5% are only concerned with getting specific vitamins and minerals in pill form.
Although vitamin supplementation has its place (i.e.: Vitamin D for almost everyone, several key nutrients for the elderly and people on very low calorie diets, Vitamin B-12 for some vegans, folate for women planning to get pregnant, etc.) it can also lull many people into a fall sense of security.
I recall a conversation with someone who told me he didn't feel the need to eat fruits or vegetables since she was getting every single vitamin and mineral in pill form every day.
Not quite. Many people forget that:
1) No multivitamin offers 100% of every nutrient. Calcium, for instance, takes up a lot of space, so any pill offering an entire day's worth (1,000 milligrams) would be too big. Besides, the body can only assimilate 500 milligrams of calcium at one given time, so a single dose of 1,000 milligrams is ineffective.
2) Since multivitamins fall into the "supplement" category, they are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. In other words, the label may say 100% of 23 vitamins and minerals, but no entity is making sure such a statement is accurate.
3) Multivitamins do not offer the hundreds of phytonutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These phytonutrients play important roles in health promotion and help certain vitamins and minerals operate efficiently in the body. Oranges, for instance, aren't just about Vitamin C; they also provide flavonoids that help with blood sugar and cholesterol regulation.
4) Intake does not equal absorption. Synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals are less bioavailable than their naturally occurring brothers and sisters. According to estimates, absorption of most nutrients in multivitamins does not go above the 50% mark.
5) More is not always better. Some multivitamins contain excessive amounts of Vitamin E, which have been show to cause more harm than good.
6) Nutrition and health go beyond simply getting enough vitamins and minerals. Calories, added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and fiber are just as worthy of attention. Getting a day's worth of a handful of vitamins and minerals isn't that spectacular if you aren't consuming enough fiber and eating an overabundance of calories.
I don't think standard multivitamins as insurance for a balanced and adequate diet are cause for alarm, but anybody looking to get optimal nutrition should really look to food first (Vitamin D is the only nutrient I think everybody should be supplementing in their diet).