Eli5: Why are multivitamins inferior to fruits/vegetables?

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Every article I read says you should primarily get your vitamins through fruits and vegetables and other whole foods rather than multivitamin pills. But if you look at the nutritional facts on say, a bag of spinach or cup of fruit, the % daily value seems way lower than a regular multivitamin, and you’d need to eat a ton of fruits/veggies to get a comparable intake (a single serving of spinach is usually almost an entire bag).

What am I missing?

In: Biology

16 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Because multiple studies have shown that we more readily absorb vitamins and minerals through the process of digestion (actually eating foods with vitamins and minerals). The vast majority of vitamins and minerals that we consume from a tablet or capsule is passed through as urine. While taking multi-vitamins is not entirely useless, you are mostly and quite literally pissing your money away.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It doesn’t matter for the purposes of vitamins, but fruits and vegetables have fiber and all sorts of phytochemicals with demonstrated or hypothesised health benefits, which you are missing out on if you only take pills.

Anonymous 0 Comments

most vitamins in pill form are never absorbed by the body; the stomach acid breaks it down before it can be absorbed (roughly 90% goes to waste). vitamins are great for people who have issues absorbing certain vitamins or natural deficiencies and can help boost vitamin levels in those with bad diets; but they are a poor replacement to better food intake

spinach is more than one thing….vitamins a , k , c , as well as iron and potassium, plus fiber and protein

Anonymous 0 Comments

A vitamin is a single molecule that we managed to identify in a lab, likely because somebody with a goofy diet developed symptoms of a deficiency, and the deficiency was treated with that molecule that was found in the food they weren’t eating.

Plants have lots and lots of molecules in them. Many of them could be important to your health even if we haven’t identified them and put them in a pill yet. Plus you get fiber and energy and a sense of satiety and the great taste of food.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One is that a multivitamin has everything at once, and many things require transport proteins and channels to absorb, which get saturated. Another is that fruits and vegetables have non-vitamin compounds that are good for you, like polyphenols and anthocyanins.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There are some good answers here, I just want to highlight what science has found about supplements.

“Randomized controlled trials

Unfortunately, randomized controlled trials of specific supplements have failed to demonstrate a consistent or significant effect of any single vitamin or combination of vitamins on incidence of or death from cardiovascular disease (Morris and Carson 2003). Vitamin E plus vitamin C plus betacarotene showed no difference in all-cause, vascular, or nonvascular mortality, or secondary measures including major coronary events, stroke, revascularization, and cancer compared with placebo (Heart Protection Study Collaborative Group 2002). In a meta-analysis of 135 967 participants in 19 randomized controlled trials using vitamin E, nine of eleven trials showed an increased risk for all-cause mortality at a dose greater than or equal to 400 IU per day of vitamin E. No increase in all-cause mortality was seen for doses less than 400 IU per day in these trials, but a dose-response analysis showed that a statistically significant relationship between vitamin E dosage and all-cause mortality began at a dose greater than 150 IU/day (Miller et al 2005). A similar increase in mortality has been described in very high dose vitamin E (2000 IU per day) supplementation in persons with Alzheimer dementia (Sano et al 1997; Miller et al 2005).

Four placebo-controlled trials have not shown a benefit of betacarotene, alone or combination with alphatocopherol or retinol, or alphatocopherol alone on the development of lung cancer. For people with risk factors for lung cancer, no reduction in lung cancer incidence or mortality was found in those taking vitamins alone compared with placebo. For people with no known risk factors of lung cancer, none of the vitamins or their combinations appeared to have any effect. In fact, in combination with retinol, a statistically significant increase in risk of lung cancer incidence was found compared with placebo (Caraballoso et al 2003).

Table 2 summarizes examples of randomized controlled trials and meta-analytical reviews for vitamins and specific diseases. The data from randomized controlled trials show (with a few exceptions) that supplementation with vitamins has not had much effect on disease states. Vitamin D supplementation, along with calcium, has been demonstrated to reduce hip fracture rate in older persons. The use of mineral and vitamin supplements has been shown to slow the progression of, but not prevent, age-related macular degeneration. Folate may have some role in the treatment of depression, although the trials have been small in numbers. Vitamin C may, or may not, have an effect on hypertension, but the longest trials were only two months in duration. Six controlled trials on supplementation of vitamin C in persons with asthma showed no appreciable benefit on asthma outcome”

[this source has lots of good info](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682456/)

Anonymous 0 Comments

Short answer is there really isn’t a difference. Others have mentioned the concept of absorption, properly called Bioavailability, but that’s already been taken into account formulating the multivitamin. If you look on the label that’s why certain vitamins are included at say 599% of the daily requirement, because only 1/6th gets absorbed.

The “eat healthy” stuff is more about the big picture balance of fats/carbs/protein and picking up excess calories. e.g. you snack on a 120 calorie apple vs a 240 calorie bag of cookies.

Reality is that nutrient deficiencies are rare in the United States since about a hundred years ago when we figured out what vitamins were. Since then we’ve “fortified” or “enriched” most of our basic foodstuffs so that even a “shitty diet” easily covers the basis. Restrictive Vegan diets are about the only ones with a serious chance of missing anything.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One reason is bio-availability.

Calcium is a good example of this one.  You never eat just straight Calcium.  It’s always part of a molecule, and it’ll be diff molecules depending on the food or vitamin.  Milk is CaHPO4, Tofu is CaSO4, and vitamins may be CaCO3.  Each of these is absorbed by the body differently.  So you actually get a different amount for each.  Milk is more bioavailable than tofu.  And tofu is more bio available than CaCO3.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Problem one : If your are in the US or Canada then there are no controls over what is really in a “vitamin” pill. Some have been found to be made of compressed plant stems.

Problem two: The human body has spent hundreds of thousands of years getting its nutrients from food. So thats what it does best . Hundreds of thousands of years vs about fifty for “vitamin” pills.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Why is eating soup with a fork inferior to a spoon.
Same reason, the way you absorb vitamins are varied, some are fat soluble, some are not, you have 13 essential vitamins, A, C, D E K, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Biotin, Pyridoxine, Biotine, Folate, and Cyanocobalamin, of these A, D, E and K, are notorious for being hard to get much of in multivitamin form since they are fatsoluable, so if you take some lard with the pills, they would work fairly well, however, the 9 other vitamins are water soluble, and taking those with a fat rich meal, means they are gonna be poorly picked up by the body, stop giving your body forks for the vitamin soup, and they will work well.