There is much concern these days about what’s in our dietary supplements. Are they actually filled with the ingredients that the labels promise?
Maybe, maybe not. Quality control issues in the estimated 85,000 dietary supplement products available in America should give every consumer pause. But even vitamins themselves — the 13 dietary chemicals necessary to prevent deficiency diseases like scurvy and rickets — pose hidden hazards of their own.
We believe so strongly that vitamins are always good for us, and that the more we get the better, that we fail to notice that food marketers use synthetic vitamins to sell unhealthful products. Not only have we become dependent on these synthetic vitamins to keep ourselves safe from deficiencies, but the eating habits they encourage are having disastrous consequences on our health.
Discovered barely a century ago, vitamins were a breakthrough in nutritional science, providing cures and preventions for some terrifying diseases. It wasn’t long, though, before vitamins spread from the labs of scientists to the offices of food marketers, and began to take on a life of their own.
Even though an estimated two billion people around the world still don’t have access to adequate vitamins, most Americans have never experienced or seen the consequences of a serious vitamin deficiency. It’s tempting to believe that we’re being protected from these deficiencies by vitamins found naturally in the foods we eat.
In reality, however, most of the vitamins in our diets are synthetic additions, whether they’re in obviously fortified products like breakfast cereals, or hiding in plain sight. Milk, for example, has been fortified with vitamin D for so long that it’s become a major dietary source of the vitamin without most of us realizing that it’s an artificial addition.
Nutritionists are correct when they tell us that most of us don’t need to be taking multivitamins. But that’s only because multiple vitamins have already been added to our food.