We hear so often that we should all be taking our daily vitamins, that kids need their fruit snack vitamins, pregnant women need their prenatal vitamins. We all probably feel overwhelmed when we go to the store and have a choice between hundreds of different vitamins.
Though these pills contain concentrated amounts of vitamins, they are called supplements for a reason. The commercials for vitamins and the way they are sold make it seem that these vitamins can give us all of the nutrients we need, regardless of what we need. But if that was really true, everyone would be healthy by just taking little pills!
Kids today are taking more vitamins than generations past, but are still in poorer health. Why? The reasons are likely because of less physical activity and more processed food, even with the vitamins they take. Sometimes vitamins are necessary, and recommended by doctors or dietitians, and sometimes they may be found to cause harm. A recent study out of Johns Hopkins looked at elevated levels of folic acid and B12 that increase the chance of autism, which may also make sense historically because of the recommendations for pregnant mothers to take folic acid to prevent neural tube defects and the rise in autism.
Since not all supplements are thoroughly tested and their long-term effects are sometimes unknown, it is much safer and healthier to get your essential nutrients from whole foods. In times of rapid growth, especially pregnancy and childhood, whole foods should always be the main way of getting vitamins into the body; vitamins should be used only when very necessary.
During pregnancy, baby eats what mommy eats, so a diet filled with processed foods, refined grains, sugar, and salt, with an added prenatal vitamin is starting baby off without many of the nutrients they need and mom’s behaviors will ultimately influence baby in a positive way.
It is completely possible to get all the extra nutrients needed during these times with a healthy, balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy or fortified dairy replacements, and healthy, lean proteins.
Food sources of B12:
- Salmon & mackerel fish (2-3 servings of 3 oz. are safe for a pregnant woman each week)
- 100% Whole grain cereals fortified with B12 (we recommend unsweetened shredded wheat)
- Cow’s milk or B12 fortified dairy replacements
- Plain yogurt or unsweetened coconut yogurt
- Red meat (to be consumed sparingly)
- Fortified soy products
- Cottage cheese
Food sources of folate:
- Okra (very rich in folate)
- Pinto and black beans
- Edamame (soybeans)
- Enriched whole wheat pasta
Written by: Dr. Patricia Riba, MD & Dahlia Marin, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist