Are Vitamins and Supplements a Waste of Money?

A couple of weeks ago, one of my patients came in for a visit with a bag full of 15 vitamins and supplements. She wanted me to review them and tell her which ones I thought were good and which ones were not.

It took about 20 minutes to go through all her stuff.  Truthfully, she had some good quality supplements. There were antioxidants, fiber pills, an assortment of vitamins – I had to admit that they were excellent quality.

Then she asked me which ones she actually needed.  I told her that she could do without most of them if she would eat a healthy diet. She looked at me incredulously – as if, I bought all these pills for nothing?! The secret: Most supplements are unnecessary.  The key to ultimate health lies in what you choose to eat. The problem is that most people want to do everything but eat a super-clean and super-healthy diet.

Healthy eating made easy

When you take nutrients out of food and eat them as supplements they are not going to pack the same punch. There is tremendous value in consuming the whole food.  Furthermore, some supplements may go right on through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested.

I will never forget the story a septic tank cleaner told me (it’s a little gross, but worth repeating). He said that one time he was cleaning someone’s septic system and the hose exploded all over the lawn.  He said it looked like a bunch of shiny jewels were everywhere.  It was all the vitamins that the owner of the system had consumed that had landed on the lawn undigested!

You might say that organic veggies and fruits are expensive.  But when you think about it, if you stop buying all those expensive supplements you might be able to afford more of the healthy food.  If you eat a diet rich in vegetables, lean protein and healthy grains and fiber, there are only a couple of things you might need in addition.

Those supplements include calcium, vitamin D and possibly fish oil.  Vitamin D is hard to get if you wear sunscreen, which will block its absorption.  Calcium may also be hard to get if you are unable to eat dairy products, and if you are unable to find fresh fish, fish oil may be needed as a supplement.  That’s about it.

What to look for in fish oil supplements

Your selenium for the day can be obtained by eating two (just two) Brazil nuts. If you need iron you can find it in clams, liver, pumpkin seeds, beans, lean red meat (no more than three 3-4 oz. servings per week) and even in chocolate. Spinach and almonds are rich in magnesium. Sunflower seeds and almonds contain vitamin E.  Vitamin C is in citrus fruits. B12 is found in clams, salmon and rainbow trout. You get the idea. The bottom line is that it is always best (and a lot tastier!) to get vitamins the way nature intended.

Signs that you need more vitamin D

I have quoted Hippocrates before and I will do it again because it makes so much sense. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ― Hippocrates


File under: Expert Spotlight


Robin Miller

Dr. Robin Miller, Sharecare Editorial Advisory Board Member, currently practices Internal Medicine and serves as the medical director of Triune Integrative Medicine, a highly innovative Integrative Medicine clinic in Medford, Oregon. She has produced the award-winning health series, “Is there a Doctor in the House,” which is shown nationwide on the GE-sponsored Patient Channel, and is the author of "Kids Ask the Doctor" and the co-author of “The Smart Woman's Guide to Midlife and Beyond: A No-Nonsense Approach to Staying Healthy after 50".

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