Facts about Vitamins

Myths abound

There are a surprisingly large number of myths about nutrition. In this and future articles, I will try to set the record straight about some of the most common. Here are some myths and facts about vitamins:

Myth:

Vitamins prevent or cure disease.

Fact:

Vitamins have not been shown to prevent or cure any disease (including the common cold), except for those related to specific vitamin deficiencies (such as scurvy, which is cured by vitamin C).

Myth:

Vitamins provide energy.

Fact:

Contrary to popular belief, vitamins do not provide energy themselves (because they don't contain calories). While the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin are important for the release of energy, only carbohydrates, fat, and protein provide energy (calories).

Myth:

Taking extra vitamins will make my child mature faster, become stronger, or improve athletic performance.

Fact:

Supplementation at levels exceeding the RDA or AI does not improve the performance of well-nourished athletes. Although vitamin and mineral deficiencies can impair performance, it is very unusual for athletes to have such deficiencies because athletes tend to eat more than sedentary people and so tend to obtain more vitamins and minerals in relation to their needs. If your child feels "stale" or "flat," it is usually the result of a calorie or carbohydrate deficiency, not vitamin or mineral deficiency. Feeling better after taking vitamin/mineral supplements is probably due to the belief that they have helped ("placebo effect"). For more on the reasons why nutritional supplements are bad for youth athletes, click here.

Myth:

Athletic activity substantially increases vitamin requirements.

Fact:

While youth athletes do need some nutrients in higher amounts (e.g. extra calories and fluids), studies have shown that athletic activity does not seem to increase significantly vitamin and mineral needs. Because there is a close relationship between calorie intake and vitamin intake, the extra food that a youth athlete consumes, especially the carbohydrate-rich diet recommended for athletes, will supply any additional vitamins or minerals your child may need.

Myth:

Vitamin supplements can be used to replace foods, and make up for poor eating habits.

Fact:

No, they can't! Just as an adequate diet isn't improved by supplements, an inadequate diet isn't "fixed" by supplements. Consuming a variety of foods from the Food Guide Pyramid each day reduces your child's need for vitamin/mineral supplementation.

Myth:

If a little of a particular vitamin is good, more must be better.

Fact:

The adage does not apply to vitamins. There is no established benefit for anyone, including children and adolescents, to consume nutrients at level above the RDA or AI. In fact, the Committee on diet and Health (Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council) recommends that people avoid taking dietary supplements that exceed 100% of the RDA or AI in any one day. This is because some vitamins are toxic at high doses.

Myth:

My child should take vitamin/mineral supplements for nutritional "insurance."

Fact:

If you want your child to have nutritional insurance, make sure he or she eats more nutrient-dense grain products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes and fewer empty calories such as sugar and fat. Remember also that while different foods contain a variety of nutrients and other compounds (dietary fiber, phytochemicals) that promote health, supplements don't usually contain these compounds.

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