This is the first of a five part series highlighting the nutritional benefits of some powerful vegetables.
When I joined my health club over a year ago, I was so excited to see the abundance of high caliber yoga, pilates and fitness training options which were so perfect for me, easy on the joints, good for the core and offered at convenient times. As part of my initial evaluation and consultation, I was surprised to be presented with an array of vitamin-based supplements available for purchase which could “benefit my overall health.” I politely declined the pitch. I pondered, “Were exercise and supplements touted as complementary approaches to maintaining one’s health? Could the cost of these supplements (which could become hefty) really prove their value? And if I took them, how would I know if I felt better because I was taking these wonder pills or just participating an exercise program?” Hmmm… all rhetorical questions I suppose because there had been little data to address these concerns. Until now…which is why recent medical studies evaluating multivitamin supplementation are gaining attention and attracting controversy as well.
The widely-respected Annals of Internal Medicine recently published three journal articles investigating the value of multivitamins on overall general health. These articles , which are well-summarized in a recent CBC News article, begin to delve into the practice of vitamin supplements, perhaps taken by nearly one half of Americans. Bottom line is that data suggests that multivitamin supplements may not be as beneficial as previously thought and even possibly harmful to health.
Anectdotely, I remember a dramatic case from my residency, when a young woman presented to the hospital in liver failure. Since prescription medications can cause inflammation of the liver, sometimes called “transaminitis ” or “hepatitis” or liver failure in the most serious case, it is always in order to ask patient what medications they are taking when evaluating liver issues. Although the young woman in this case denied taking any medications, with more prodding we learned she was taking herbal supplements for minor joint pain, which proved to be causative of her serious condition. Often, people do not put over-the-counter pills and vitamin supplements in the same category as taking prescription medications and fail to let their doctors are know that they taking them. It is important to share this history with your doctor because supplements are not necessarily benign and may have deleterious side effects similar to prescription medications.
Personally I have never been a fan of vitamin supplements. Professionally, I do not recomnended them for a well person. Exceptions include the following: vitamin deficiency states, malabsorbtion syndromes, pregnancy and diets which are deficient in a specific nutrient. Additionally there are medications which make us lose certain electrolytes. For example, certain diuretics or water pills, used for high blood pressure and edema states can can make us lose in potassium, which can lead to muscle weakness and electrical heart abnormalities. If I put a person an a low dose diuretic, often I will recommend that he or she eats a banana or two a day instead of prescribing an additional potassium pill. Of course, potassium levels need to be monitored carefully in a lab and corrected with a pill if indicated. I call the practice of prescribing bananas rather than pills a prime example of food as medicine!
The takeaway message from this discussion underscores a common sense approach to diet which perhaps serves foundation of the principles behind the Mediterranean diet. Eating foods such as vegetables, legumes and fruits, rich in macronutrients, will afford us the best way to obtain vitamins and comprehensive nutrition while contributing to overall general good health and well-being. Learning how to prepare some powerful vegetables in a simple, fuss-free manner can serve as your staple “go to” ingredients to become the basis of your Mediterranean diet.