She Downplays Vitamin Supplements : Nutritionist Makes Case for Good Eating

If you are what you eat, says a noted nutritionist, then your best bet is to get on a balanced diet and forget about taking vitamin and mineral supplements.

According to Dr. Gail Butterfield of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Palo Alto, too many people take vitamin supplements in the belief they are a substitute for a balanced diet.

Actually, Butterfield says, vitamin and mineral supplements can produce toxic reactions if taken in high doses. She quotes a recent survey by the Food and Drug Administration as showing that a majority of people take supplements because they believe the pills will give them extra energy and make them feel good.

“There are no proteins, carbohydrates or fats in a pill,” Butterfield says. “Those are the only substances which provide energy, and they are found in foods. If you’re looking for energy, you should eat something.


“Vitamins and minerals are the catalysts that help your body convert food into energy. If you convince yourself that supplements will give you extra energy, they probably will. But you may as well have taken a sugar pill.”

Butterfield estimates that more than 40% of the American population takes supplements daily, and 11% of those take more than five pills per day.

“The perception that supplements such as the B-complex vitamins give additional energy to relieve stress is false,” Butterfield says. “B vitamins break down carbohydrates, thereby releasing the energy contained in food. Without the food, B vitamins are useless.”

Butterfield says many people assume that if one vitamin is good for you, more vitamins are better. This, she says, creates the danger of megadosing, which can produce toxic reactions. If you have to take supplements, Butterfield says, never take more than the daily recommended dosage.


Vitamin B-6, she notes, can damage the nervous system when taken in heavy dosage and is suspected of creating liver damage when stored in excess amounts.

Butterfield, a stickler for balanced eating, says that since all essential nutrients are found in foods, she doesn’t understand the fuss over supplements. If you have to take a supplement, she says, stick to a multivitamin.

To make sure you are getting the proper nutrients, Butterfield suggests analyzing what you are eating for a week to discover which nutrients you may be lacking. Then, concentrate on eating a variety from the four food groups and choose foods that are rich in the nutrients that you need.

The best food sources for common vitamins:


- B complex: Whole and enriched grain products, dried beans and peas, legumes, nuts, dairy products, eggs, organ and lean meats, dark green vegetables, fish, poultry.

- Vitamin A: Liver, kidneys, eggs, fortified milk, fortified margarine, butter, cheese, yellow, orange and dark green vegetable and fruits, fish liver oil.

- Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, dark green vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, melons, strawberries, mangoes, potatoes, tomatoes.

- Vitamin E: Vegetable oils, margarines and shortenings, nuts, seeds, whole grain products, liver, leafy green vegetables.


- Folic acid: Liver, kidney, beans, beets, eggs, fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, oranges, whole wheat products.

The best food sources for common minerals:

- Calcium: Milk and milk products, most nuts, dried figs, fish with soft edible bones, green leafy vegetables.

- Magnesium: Nuts, sesame seeds, spices, wheat bran, wheat germ, whole grains and molasses.


- Potassium: Fruits, molasses, rice bran, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, beef, most raw vegetables, nuts, pork, poultry and sardines.

- Iron: Organ meats (liver, kidney, heart), blackstrap molasses, oysters, wheat bran, beef, brown sugar, egg yolk, lima beans, nuts, pork, iron-fortified products.

- Zinc: Beef, lamb, liver, oysters, peanuts, pork, poultry, spices, wheat bran.