7 myths about vitamins experts want you to stop believing

Interview with Geraldine Georgeou. Republished with permission from MamaMia.com.au.

Anyone else just swig back a couple of vitamins every morning and hope they do some good things to your insides?

Or chase the sun to boost those vitamin D levels?

Or eat oranges cause that’s where your vitamin C comes from?

Just us? Cool.

When it comes to vitamins, deficiencies and all that jazz, there’s a helluva lot of confusing information out there. And we’re not going to beat around the bush – a lot of these ‘facts’ are actually total BS. Cute!

To suss it all out, we spoke to practicing dietitian Geraldine Georgeou and accredited naturopath Shauna Anderson, and asked them to help us debunk some of the most common myths surrounding vitamins and deficiencies.

1. The sun will give you enough vitamin D.

Don’t pretend you didn’t think this. We all did.

“Most people know that vitamin D or the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is traditionally absorbed from the sun,” said Anderson. “But what many don’t know is that getting adequate sun can be difficult to achieve, especially in 2020, as the sun exposure must be timed and planned for certain times of the day.”

“Unfortunately, the minimum recommendations from most vitamin D health authorities could see you expose your skin to the harsh Aussie sun for up to 30 minutes several times per week,” the Whole Earth & Sea ambassador added.

Sheesh. That sounds pretty dangerous. We’re all trying to stay away from the effects of the sun, no?

“The misconception that you can just get a bit of sun and absorb adequate vitamin D is widespread and totally inaccurate. The minimum is much greater than an occasional stint outdoors.”

Anderson goes on to say that if you have darker skin, you won’t absorb vitamin D as efficiently from the sun and may need even longer outside – up to three hours. Three hours in the sun to get the required amount of vitamin D.

Nuh-uh. No, thanks.

“Again, this will impact your time and potentially your health,” said Anderson.

So, wait. How do you know if you’re lacking in vitamin D in the first place? According to Georgeou, some common signs of vitamin D deficiency can include “fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness, muscle aches, or muscle cramps, mood changes and if left brittle bones.”

“Symptoms, no matter how small, need to be dealt with so they don’t compile over time to become something much bigger,” said Anderson.

The best thing you can do is to check in with your doctor and find out the best way to deal with your vitamin D deficiency – it might be something as simple as incorporating more foods such as oily fish (like tuna or salmon) and egg yolks into your diet, or using supplements.

“With a growing indoor lifestyle, coupled with anti-cancer sun protective measures, it is not unreasonable to consider looking at a daily vitamin D supplement. Taking a good quality vitamin D3 can help you get the dose you need without worrying about timing and planning,” adds Anderson.

2. You need to eat oranges to up your vitamin C levels.

When you think of vitamin C, the foods that immediately come to mind are things like oranges and other citrusy fruits, right? When you feel like you’re getting sick, reaching for an orange is usually the first option to try to boost your immunity.

Thing is, though, oranges aren’t where it’s all at when it comes to upping your vitamin C levels.

Sure they contain some vitamin C and all, but there are a whole load of other nutritious foods that are even more excellent sources of vitamin C.

Just to put things into perspective, a 100g portion of oranges contains about 60mg of vitamin C, whereas things like guavas, chili peppers, capsicums and thyme all include 100mg and up. So, don’t think oranges are the only way to get your C’s in.

Now we’ve got that outta the way, how do we actually know if we need to up our vitamin C game?

Signs of vitamin C deficiency can include bruising, bleeding gums, weakness, fatigue and rashes.

If any of these signs sound familiar, it’s probably best to check in with your doctor to find out what’s going on.

3. Spinach is the best source of iron.

Okay, Popeye. Sit down.

While you might think spinach is the go-to source of iron (we know it’s not exactly a vitamin – it’s a mineral… but still important), do you actually know how much iron is in spinach? We didn’t. We had to look it up. But turns out there’s only about 2.7mg of iron in 100g of spinach – which is around 17 per cent of the recommended dietary allowance of adult women.

That’s a pretty small amount when compared to other plant sources like thyme (17.45mg), parsley (6.1mg) and soybeans (15.7mg).

How awks for you, spinach.

4. The more vitamins you take, the healthier you are.

Nah. If you go overboard on the vitamin front, it can actually be pretty bad for you.

“Vitamins can be dose dependent and excessive consumption of these can even be harmful. For example, an excessive amount of vitamin A supplements can be toxic and can also reduce appetite, [cause] nausea and be harmful during pregnancy,” said Georgeou.

“Other things to be aware of include excessive supplementation with niacin – which can induce flushing and have a negative effect on your liver function. Consuming excessive amount of vitamin B6 has also been found to produce a loss of sensation in the external limbs of the body due to nerve damage.”

5. Probiotics and vitamin supplements can fix your gut issues.

PSA: Vitamin supplements alone will not fix your messed-up gut.

“The most important nutrient you can use to improve your gut health is not in a pill,” said Georgeou.

“It comes from plant foods and is dietary fibre. It is one of the most important nutrients to promote gut health and our good bacteria can’t survive without it,” she said. “There is fibre that helps us go to the toilet and there is fibre that helps to control blood and cholesterol levels, but there is a particular fibre that makes sure your gut microbiome is healthy.”

And where can we get this magical fibre from?

“This fibre is called prebiotic fibre and we can find it in some fruit and veggies, whole grains and high fibre cereals, artichokes, chicory root and onions.”

Georgeou said that while probiotics and other supplements have gained popularity for gut health, prebiotics can often be ignored. Sad face.

“Research from Kellogg’s reveals although close to a quarter (22 per cent) of Aussies are focusing on their health, eight out of 10 do not understand the importance of prebiotics for good gut health, and over a third (35 per cent) admit to not consuming any because they don’t believe they need them.”

We feel… seen.

“Research from Kellogg’s reveals over a third (38 per cent) of Aussies believe probiotic supplements improve gut health, followed by kombucha (29 per cent), Kimchi (18 per cent) and inner health powders (17 per cent). Surprisingly, prebiotics are not included in the top list of foods that promote gut health,” adds Georgeou.

So why are prebiotics so important, again?

“Prebiotics are important to help manage gut health by feeding the good bacteria and that can affect the skin, mood, energy, support the immune system and much more. There are many supplements on the market which tap into the gut health trend, however they can cost over $100 on a single product. There are much more cost-effective options to keep up your health.”

We love cost-effective! Gimme.

“More than half of Aussies (52 per cent) are unaware that fibre breakfast cereals and whole grains contain prebiotic fibres and are an easy option to incorporate into your diet,” said Georgeou.

You can replace products regularly found in chemists like gut primers, kombucha, prebiotic and probiotic supplements with pantry staples like fibre cereals (All-Bran), whole grains (wholegrain bread), fruits, vegetables and legumes.

6. Vitamins won’t mess with your other medications.

Yeah, they will. Like, a lot. Georgeou told us.

“Certain dietary supplements can change absorption, metabolism, or excretion of a medication and therefore affect its potency and efficacy,” she said.

“Coenzyme Q10 can affect absorption of Warfarin (a blood thinner). Taking a fibre supplement can also reduce absorption of medications such as aspirin.”

7. It takes AGES for vitamin supplements to work.

Not necessarily. While it may take up to 90 days for some supplements to kick in, you can start seeing benefits of other supplements around the two to six week mark.

However, the length of time it takes for your body to absorb vitamins and minerals and for you to really feel the effects of a supplement depends on a few different factors – including how severe your deficiency actually is, the dosage and what’s causing the deficiency.

If you feel like you’re noticing zero changes, you should chat to your doctor.