Are you getting toxic levels of vitamins without even realizing it? If you’re like millions of Americans who take supplements and also eat fortified and enriched food products you may be getting dangerous amounts of vitamins and minerals. I know I was way over doing it before I cut out processed foods and unnecessary supplements.
A 2014 review of supplement use and food fortification found that supplement use is increasing exponentially in the U.S. The study found that “Many foods and beverages are increasingly being fortified with single or multiple vitamins and minerals. Consequently, nutrient intakes are exceeding the safe limits established by the Institute of Medicine.”
Now more than ever, the fake vitamins are everywhere. They’re in our cereal, our almond milk, our cow’s milk, our protein bars, even our juices and our smoothies are pumped full of synthetic versions of the real thing. Food marketers appeal to our desire to be healthier by convincing us that food itself is not enough. And in the case of highly processed food products, it probably isn’t. Manufacturing processes and shelf stabilization destroy much of what makes food good for us. Rather than saying that, however, you’ll see things like “good source of B vitamins” on a label which is meant to make us believe that what we’re getting is healthy.
Let’s take a look at the abundance of synthetic vitamins I was getting just a few weeks ago, before I started paying attention to just how many vitamins and minerals I was taking in. By eating two pieces of bread, a coconut milk based smoothie, taking a multivitamin, and washing it all down with an energy drink, I was getting an overabundance of fake vitamins, far exceeding the recommended daily allowance before noon. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t just pee out excess vitamins and minerals. What we put in our body effects us, read more about that here and here.
My Bread and Synthetic Vitamins
I try to eat mostly gluten-free, not because I have Celiac Disease, but because I just feel better when I eat less bread. In general, most bread is a highly processed, high glycemic, empty calorie food I don’t need, but I do indulge about once per week. Now when I do, I try to stick to sprouted grain breads like the Ezekial brand, which contains tons of naturally occurring vitamins. But that wasn’t always the case. I used to fall for marketing claims and pretty packaging too.
A typical day before the 90-Day No Supplement Challenge, would include 2 pieces of Milton’s Original Multi-grain bread as part of my breakfast sandwich. Milton’s says that their bread is “Fortified with Calcium and essential nutrients.” Aside from the nutrients naturally present in whatever else I put on the sandwich, here’s what I’d be getting in just one slice:
See all those vitamins and minerals? They’re not there naturally, and it’s impossible to determine from the label what compounds are contained in Milton’s bread without enrichment. It’s safe to assume that close to 100% of the vitamins and minerals present in this bread were put there by the manufacturer.
My Coconut Milk and Synthetic Vitamins
Then let’s say I then made a smoothie with 2 cups of SoDelicious Coconut Milk.
Here’s what I’d be getting:
Vitamin A – 20%
Calcium – 20%
Vitamin D – 60%
Vitamin B12 – 100%
Zinc – 8%
Folate – 12%
Magnesium – 20%
Selenium – 16%
Wow, look at all those amazing vitamins! Wouldn’t it be awesome if they weren’t synthetically produced in a lab somewhere? Wouldn’t it be great if they occurred naturally without being added during manufacturing? Unfortunately, the vitamins and minerals present in almost all commercially available dairy alternatives are from synthetic sources.
My Prenatal Vitamin
And then there’s my prenatal or multivitamin. I was so conditioned to believe that taking a vitamin was essential for good health that I wouldn’t travel without them. I had a pill case broken up by day just like my grandpa did for his medications. I’d fill that pill case with vitamins, antioxidants, and fish oil. And if I forgot one day, I’d double dose the next, sure that I’d get sick if I failed to do so.
One thing I can say about the vitamins I was taking before Credible Feast is that they were food based. Many “experts” argue that food based supplements are better because they provide naturally sourced vitamins that supposedly are more readily absorbed by the body, unlike most of the synthetic vitamins out there.
Consumerlabs.com, however, has found that “Using supplements made from whole foods won’t necessarily give you more vitamins (in fact, they typically contain more modest amounts of vitamins than other dietary supplements)…. Paying a premium price for this, however, may not be worthwhile and ConsumerLab.com has found lead contamination in some whole food and “greens” products.”
Here’s what I was getting of the essential 13, plus Calcium and Iron in the “typical day” scenario we’re discussing now each morning when I’d follow my breakfast with a prenatal vitamin.
Vitamin A – 100% (as beta carotene)
Vitamin C – 100%
Vitamin D3 – 250%
Vitamin E – 100%
Vitamin B1 -267%
Vitamin B2 – 294%
Niacin – 100%
Vitamin B6 – 250%
Folate – 150%
Vitamin B12 – 500%
Vitamin B6 – 250%
Pantothenic Acid – 100%
Biotin – 100%
Calcium – 7.5%
My Energy Drink
For several years, I worked for an energy drink company where we had access to as many energy drinks we wanted. There were no limits. The most I ever drank in one day was probably five energy drinks, give or take. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. But on most days, until a few years ago, when I decided to cut caffeine out because I thought it was exacerbating my endometriosis (I thought nothing of the excess B vitamins at the time), I’d consume one energy drink every morning. You’d think with all those B vitamins circulating in my system that I’d be full of energy, but the truth is, I was tired ALL THE TIME.
Here’s what I was getting from my morning energy drink habit:
Vitamin B1 – 4.3%
Vitamin B2- 86.3%
Niacin – 108%
Vitamin B5- 35.7%
B6 – 106.5%
B12 – 74.4%
Vitamin Overload! By breakfast!
Before I even tally up the total, I’m sure you’ve done a little mental math yourself. I was OD’ing on vitamins before noon almost every day. Here’s the over abundant total of vitamins after just one supplement and one meal:
Vitamin A – 120%
Vitamin D – 310%
Vitamin B1 -271.3%
Vitamin B2 – 380.3%
Niacin – 208%
Vitamin B6 – 356.5%
Folate – 150%
Vitamin B12 – 694.4%
Pantothenic Acid – 100%
Biotin – 100%
I exceeded the recommended daily intake in my breakfast by 200% for Vitamin D, B1, B2, Niacin, B6, and B12.
“So what?” you might be thinking, “Aren’t vitamins good for you? More is better, right?” What I’ve found, is that more is NOT better and may even be harmful for you. Take Vitamin A and beta-carotene for example. Catherine Price, author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection reviewed several years of large scale studies on beta-carotene supplementation and found:
“Overall, the results were inconclusive at best: of the five large studies on beta-carotene, one had been slightly positive, two had been alarmingly negative, and the other two were neutral. The general consensus today is that large doses of beta-carotene are not beneficial – and are potentially dangerous, especially for smokers.” (emphasis my own)
And, for all of the other studies out there looking into large doses of vitamins, like what I was eating and drinking at breakfast as recently as a few weeks ago, she writes:
“Results of nearly all randomized, controlled studies of vitamin megadoses – our would be magic bullets – have suggested the opposite of what we want to hear: that the healthiest and safest doses of vitamins are the ones naturally found in food.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself Catherine! The benefit of food strikes again!
And I’m not the only one concerned about our over enriched world.
In an October 2014 medical research paper titled, Discretionary fortification–a public health perspective. the authors state, “Expanding discretionary fortification can only increase nutrient exposures, but any health risks associated with chronically high nutrient loads from fortification and supplementation remain to be discovered.”
Yes, you read that correctly: the health risks remain to be discovered. Doctors and scientists just do not know what the consequences of our energy drink consuming, fortified bread eating, multivitamin taking, enriched milk alternative drinking (milk is also often fortified with Vitamins A and D) world may have on our long term health.
So what can you do? Start paying attention, not just to genetically modified ingredients and whether or not your foods are organic, but to how many synthetic vitamins you’re getting from food and non-food sources. Processed dessert products for example typically use fortified flours, which is why I decided to try this awesome strawberry dessert from Irish blogger Anna-Jane Kingston of Thyme To Eat. This is an excellent gluten-free, guilt-free, paleo recipe that will deliver real vitamins the real way!
- This is a freezer cake, so you’ll have to allow it to thaw for at least ten or so minutes before serving.
- Base Ingredients:
- 1 cup of dates
- ½ a cup of mixed nuts
- 1 tablespoon of almond butter
- A pinch of salt (don’t use salt if your almond butter is already salted)
- ¼ cup of agave/maple syrup/honey (I used agave)
- ¼ cup of coconut oil
- 1 cup of cashews (soak them in warm water with a pinch of salt for 4 hours, or overnight if you can)*
- ½ a cup of sunflower seeds
- 1 cup of sweet juicy strawberries
- 1 whole vanilla bean OR 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- The juice of 2 lemons
- * By soaking nuts, you increase their NUTritional value, it makes them more digestible and you rid them of toxins.
- Pop the nuts, dates, almond butter and salt in a food processor and blitz it all up.
- Using a 6” or 7” cake tin OR a deep pie dish, press the mixture firmly into the tin.
- Melt the coconut oil and agave in a small saucepan, give it a little stir and remove from heat.
- Give your blender a quick clean or wipe. Extract all the seeds from the vanilla pod (if using) and place that…and all of the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the strawberries into the processor, and blend until smooth.
- Pour about ⅔ of the mixture onto the base and smooth it out with a spatula. I like to give it a few taps on the worktop to even it out too.
- Add the strawberries to the remaining filling and blend blend blend. Then, add this as the final layer to the cake.
- Freeze the cake for a couple of hours until solid.
- Top your cake some fresh fruit or sliced strawberries for a lovely decorative effect, do this before placing into the freezer.