One Pill or Eight Kilograms of Carrots

~ September 1998 No.49 ~

The advice to eat a well balanced diet is still as true today as it ever was. Our food provides us with nutrients that allow us to grow and live healthy lives. Except for things like sugar and table salt, the foods we eat are a complex mixture of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals - nutrients that our body can use for normal day to day metabolism. So eating any one food provides many nutrients at the same time.

Carrots by jdarren

Researchers who study the composition of foods have come to realize that our food contains a wide variety of compounds that have been shown to be useful in the fight against various diseases. This is the good news. The unfortunate fact is that more often than not these beneficial compounds are found in very small quantities in common foodstuffs. In addition, the beneficial effects that have been reported for a wide variety of nutrients occur only when they have been consumed at levels higher than can be obtained in a normal diet. This is why more and more people are turning to vitamin supplements.

The table below illustrates why it may not be bad to be taking vitamin supplements - just in case. Because the amounts of vitamins are low in certain vegetables, you would have to eat about 700 grams of potatoes each day to get the same amount of vitamin C that is provided by a typical vitamin supplement. That may not be all that hard, but it would take about 3.5 kilograms of broccoli to provide 20 mg of niacin and over 8 kilograms of carrots to supply 3 mg of thiamine. And that is each day! Swallowing a small pill each day is a lot easier.

The other thing that the table shows is that particular vegetables are excellent sources of individual vitamins. Carrots are very high in vitamin A, and broccoli is rich in vitamin C, but one vegetable can't supply everything. This is why we are encouraged to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables each day as a way of getting what we need. Often we just can’t do that.

It would be wrong to say that pills can replace a good diet. They can’t. That is why they are called supplements.

If you want to check out the nutrient composition of a wide variety of foods try the United States Department of Agriculture nutrient analysis lab site Food and Nutrition Information Center

Vitamin Content of Various Cooked Vegetables
VitaminSupplementBrocolliCarrotsPotato
Vitamin A (IU)5,0003,88611,2940
Vitamin C (mg) 50208.81.069.9
Thiamine (mg)30.150.0160.132
Riboflavin (mg)2.50.3160.0260.026
Niacin (mg)201.610.2331.77
Vitmain B12(mcg)300
Folate (mcg)01406.3912.02

 

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Last modified

July 27 2015