Do vitamins and supplements really work?

Does taking additional vitamins and minerals make a difference how you look and feel? Why spend money on them if it doesn’t?

In the old days, physicians used to say, “If you eat right you don’t need any vitamins.”

I used to say, “Show me someone who ‘eats right.’”

What does that mean exactly? Nowadays, the American Medical Association, along with every other major health association, agrees that we all need to supplement our diets with at least a good source of vitamins and minerals.  

According to the Center for Disease Control, only 11 percent of Americans meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standard guidelines for eating the required five to nine servings of fruits and veggies daily; 93 percent don’t get enough Vitamin E; 56 percent don’t get enough magnesium; 31 percent don’t get enough Vitamin C; and 12 percent don’t get enough zinc. Seniors are especially at risk of not getting enough of all of the Vitamin Bs. And many other people are low on Vitamin K, calcium and potassium.  

For those of us who have spent our lives devoted to the pursuit and study of health and fitness, this is not news. The truth is that nutritional experts noticed the change in food value as early as the 1940s. Because farming took on an industrial model and became a large scale enterprise it changed the nutritional value of many foods. In a nutshell, this is what happened.

Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides killed off the microbes and the macro-organisms, such as worms and beetles, that used to convert inorganic minerals into organic minerals. The little guys used to chew through the soil and little clumps of dirt and rocks, passing that dirt through their bodies. The minerals were then taken up by plant roots and were available for us to use when we ate the plants.

When the chemicals killed the microbes, nematodes and other little “pests,” the topsoil became rather sterile and we no longer derived the benefits of the inorganic minerals. The farming industry started to rely on artificial “fertilizers” rather than natural organic ones, so the soil did not have to rest and lie fallow to regenerate. This led to a further degradation of the soil and therefore the quality of the food grown in it. No nutrients in the soil. No nutrients in the plants grown on it!

Another issue is the way food is harvested today. Rather than leaving parts of the plant to restore nutrients back into the soil — as is done with hand harvesting — when machines are used, the whole plant is ripped up and the soil does not get back the non-consumable portions.

Finally, a great deal of the food we eat comes from very far away. It has been rolling around in the back of a truck, boat or plane just to get here. How fresh would you be after making a trip like that?

So here are some very interesting statistics. An apple harvested today has 82.7 percent less magnesium than apples 40 years ago. The Department of Agriculture reported that fruits and veggies in the 1990s had 15 percent less protein, 20 percent less Vitamin C and 38 percent less riboflavin compared to fruits and veggies in the 1950s. In addition, 11 other nutrients fell short. A study completed at the University of Texas noted that barley and wheat had a 30 to 50 percent decrease in protein between the years 1938 and 1990. The calcium level in broccoli in 1950 was 12.9 mg/g, compared to 4.4 mg/g in 2003.

Is this not all very interesting and somewhat frightening? The good news is that organically grown food has as much as 20 percent more minerals and 30 percent more antioxidants than today’s otherwise nutrient bankrupt food.

So here’s your best bet. Eat local as much as possible. It’s good for you and good for the local economy. Eat organic foods, simply because they are real. Don’t eat junk. Take vitamins and minerals. They will make a difference to your health and guess what? They don’t have any calories. They are just pure nutrition.

Not all vitamins and minerals are created equal either. Some are equally as junky as junk food. The ones I trust and use and that make a difference for me and my clients are the men’s and women’s formula and athletes packs from Isagenix. You can order them online by going to That’s where I get mine.

If you want to talk about what you need for food or supplements, call me and we can make a plan for you. Food is fundamental. Here’s to your health!

• Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., C.N.A., can be reached at, 808-212-1451 or


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