Many people use vitamin supplements for good health despite the fact that few actually need it, says a leading Britain nutritionist who argues that the best way to stay healthy is a balanced diet.
People are often seduced into buying pills because they're worried that food has fewer nutrients than it used to, said Jane Clarke. The best source of vitamins and minerals is freshly picked produce, reported the online edition of Daily Mail.
In an ideal world, everybody would grow their own fruit and vegetables and use them straight from the garden. Instead, people rely on supermarket produce that's been kept in cold storage, sometimes for months on end, and transported great distances.
But while this does reduce the levels of some vitamins, the difference isn't significant enough to worry about.
"Provided you eat a varied diet, including five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, your body doesn't need extra help from a supplement (and remember, achieving your 'five-a-day' can be as easy as having a fruit juice and some frozen vegetables thrown into a soup)," Clarke said.
"The fact is you glean far more vitamins and minerals from food than from a pill, because the body absorbs food better," she added.
Nature makes the task easier - for instance, milk contains calcium, as well as lactose which help us to absorb that calcium.
So really, it's better to eat a balanced diet than to rely on a pill. And as long as you are having at least one portion of oily fish a week, you don't need a fish oil supplement either.
"That's not to say there's anything wrong with taking a supplement. But what does worry me is that it's so easy to exceed the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
"When you read the labels, some products contain three or four times the recommended amounts. For some vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, this isn't a problem because the body can easily get rid of the excess." Clarke said.
However, it can be harmful to take too much of those the body stores, such as vitamin A or iron - so unless you're prescribed a specific dose by a doctor, or a dietician or registered nutritionist, you shouldn't regularly exceed the RDA, the nutritionist warned.
There are some people, however, for whom supplements are recommended. For example, women who have heavy periods can benefit from iron supplements, Clarke said, answering a selection of readers' questions in Good Health section of the online edition of Daily Mail.