A morning multivitamin. A couple of E's. Maybe some C. A
protein shake for lunch. A calcium pill or two, later in the day. We've come a
long way since our Flintstones days. But are Americans overdoing it?
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It's true, vitamin-fortified foods are flying off store
shelves. Even orange juice comes with calcium and vitamin D. Energy bars,
meal-replacement drinks, protein shakes, cereal bars, cereal itself -- all
claim lots of vitamins and minerals, up to 100% of the recommended daily
Then, too, specially blended multivitamins -- with hot new
"additives" such as green tea -- are nearly irresistible to health
But you do the math: You could be getting up to 500% of the
RDA, maybe more, in one day's time -- up to five times what your body needs.
Are we toting up toxic levels of vitamins? Or throwing our money away?
Experts Weigh In
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta,
counsels plenty of people who are overdoing it.
"If you're eating two energy bars a day, plus a protein
shake that is vitamin fortified, plus taking vitamin supplements, you don't need all that," says
But most people still aren't getting the right vitamins
despite their best efforts, says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition
at Tufts University in Boston. "Most people need a multivitamin as
'insurance.' Everybody needs to eat more healthfully. While you're trying to
get there, take supplements."
In fact, many people don't know what they're taking,
Rosenbloom says. "They're picking up OJ at the store, and they don't know
what's in it -- is it calcium-fortified, they don't know. People are taking
vitamin C supplements but don't know how much."
A Tidbit of Data
A couple of years ago, the Institute of Medicine issued a report listing
"tolerable upper intake level" for all vitamins and minerals -- the
maximum safe amount that anyone should take.
The upper tolerable limit for adults is 10,000 IU for vitamin
A. You get it from animal foods, fish, and dairy products. Also, beta-carotene
(from orange and yellow veggies) gets converted to vitamin A in the body.
"But the body is smart enough that it doesn't convert all that to vitamin
A," Rosenbloom explains.
If you're taking a multivitamin that contains 5,000 IU, plus
getting A-fortified foods in your diet,
plus eating foods that contain vitamin A, you're probably OK. "It's the
supplements we worry about. It's easy to overdo it with pills," she
"Most people think it's fine to take as much as they want," says
Rosenbloom. "I know people who take 10,000 mg a day." However, the
upper tolerable limit is 2,000 mg a day. "People at risk for kidney
stones can increase that risk; people also can get diarrhea. Some people have complained of food
poisoning, but it turned out they had taken too much vitamin C. People just
aren't aware how potent these vitamin supplements are."