What is a Healthy Diet and Why Should I Eat One? (Part VII of ?)

Read Part I: Highlights
Read Part II: Our Journey to Better Eating
Read Part III: We’re not THAT weird
Read Part IV: Recommended Reading and Watching
Read Part V: Recipe Finding
Read Part VI: Grocery Shopping – What We Buy and How Much We Spend

Part VII: Supplements and the lack thereof

Some background info: I’m not a big believer in herbal remedies, and I tend to stay away from over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals as well. It’s not that I don’t believe they can do some good, it’s that I tend to just use simple things to encourage my body to heal on its own. Ideally, I get everything I need to stay healthy from nutritious food, fresh air, and exercise. As long as a fever isn’t unreasonably high, I like to let it run its course and use a cold cloth to ease the discomfort. Ditto with a headache, I tend to lie down in a dark, quiet room and have a glass of water rather than skip right to the pills. Ear infections most often clear up on their own, and hitting them prematurely with antibiotics clears out the good with the bad and leaves you prone to re-infection by harmful bacteria.

All that to say… I’m not a big fan of the fact that tons of food on supermarket shelves are routinely supplemented and multi-vitamins are a dime a dozen. Most people assume they’re doing their bodies good by popping them daily. I have my doubts.

The two nutrients that worry me the most in terms of people getting too much: Vitamin A and iron.

The two nutrients that worry me the most in terms of getting ENOUGH: Vitamin D and B-12.

Vitamin A

If you eat a remotely healthy diet, with vegetables in it, you shouldn’t need to supplement with Vitamin A or any of its precursors (e.g., beta carotene).

Because pre-formed Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin (capable of being stored up in the body for long periods of time) and is a known teratogen (causing birth defects in high doses), I hate to see it added to processed food and multi-vitamins. When Mackenzie was born, it was really difficult to find vitamin D drops that did NOT have vitamin A in them. Fortunately that’s no longer the case.

Vitamin A transmits just fine in breastmilk and as I mentioned, every woman with a reasonable diet has adequate vitamin A status so to give those drops to infants is just crazy.


This is another one that is stored in your body so effectively that once it’s there, it’s hard to get it out (except by having a baby or menstruating). So I don’t think it’s a good thing to have this added to every multi-vitamin. Men, children, and post-menopausal women really can get plenty from a healthy diet!

I was always borderline anemic before changing to a healthy diet, and every time I’ve had my iron tested at the beginning of pregnancy it’s been about the same level. But I do take iron supplements sporadically while I’m pregnant and I try to be conscientious eat my leafy greens alongside something with Vitamin C (citrus) when possible to increase the absorption of iron.

Vitamin D

This is a hormone, not a vitamin, and ideally we should all get it from sunshine! However, the vast majority of Americans are deficient and I was deficient enough myself to be symptomatic, so I take it seriously now.

I supplement my family as follows:
– My baby gets 400 IU/day via drops
– My 2 year old, my 5 year old, and my husband take 2,000 IU every other day
– I take 2,000 IU a day


A diet pretty much free of animal foods needs to be supplemented with B-12. We each take a sublingual pill every week (it happens to be 2500 mcg but that’s not a magic number.)

Take time to learn more

I’m not an expert. I try to listen to those who are, though, and one of my favorite sources of information is NutritionFacts.org. It is run by a doctor who reviews every scientific study on nutrition every year and distills the information for people who visit the site. Here’s what he had to say on Iron, Vitamin D, and Vitamin B-12. I highly recommend spending some time on that site.


About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
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