There are many reasons for taking vitamins. The reasons can usually fall into one of two categories: nutritional or therapeutic.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to life. These essential nutrients must be obtained from the foods we eat. They cannot be made in our bodies. If we do not obtain enough of any one of the essential vitamins, minerals or amino acids, we will develop what medicine calls a deficiency disease (such as scurvy, pellegra, beri beri, rickets, etc), and unless this deficiency is corrected, we will die.
From this standpoint the prevention of clinical deficiency syndromes one would hope that all that would be necessary would be to eat a well balanced diet, composed of a variety of fresh, nutritious foods, properly prepared to preserve nutrient value.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Food is not what it used to be, our lifestyle is not what it used to be, and, just as important, our environment is not what it used to be.
"Today, fresh foods are often transported for several days across the country, so the nutrients are naturally reduced because of exposure to oxygen.... fruits and vegetables are [grown using chemical fertilizers and pesticide], meat and dairy products [are obtained from animals raised with] hormones or other growth-promoting drugs, and grain products [are] bleached or bromated.
"The processing of food to ‘improve’ taste and extend shelf life is a major cause of nutrient deficiency. When brown rice is processed by grinding, bleaching, and other processes to form white rice, 80 percent of many trace minerals like magnesium, manganese, copper, and zinc are lost.
"An equivalent loss occurs when whole wheat berries are reduced to bleached white wheat flour, one of the mainstays of the standard American diet.
"Nutrients can be lost in other ways. Various cooking techniques like microwaving can oxidize nutrients in foods, resulting in lower nutrient content. So can some type of preservation, like canning fruits and vegetables.
"Nutrients are lost from the soil by repeated growing of crops, and they are not being replenished. Selenium, for example, is depleted in much of our soil...
"Nutrients are lost as well when crops are harvested before they have naturally ripened. The produce, picked when it is still green, is then force ripened with chemicals, like ethylene gas..."1
So even if we try to make an effort to eat well, it may not provide the amount of nutrition we think it does. How many of us can resist the marketing pressure to buy and eat the highly processed, empty calorie foods so heavily advertised by the food industry? How many of us, when we go to a restaurant, or grab lunch and breakfast "on the run" can avoid foods with too much fat and too few nutrients? Why do the foods that taste best always seem to those that at least healthful?
"Major national surveys repeatedly show that diets consumed by many Americans are not well-balanced. Inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals are frequently reported, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, folic acid, vitamin B6, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, and zinc. In addition, 9 in 10 diets are estimated to be low in chromium, and magnesium intake is approximately half of the amount recommended in the RDAs."4
Avoiding clinical deficiencies is one thing. Avoiding "sub-clinical" deficiencies is another. Surely, we do not move from "adequate" to "deficiency" in the flash of an eye. Obviously, there is a situation where a person can be partially deficient in certain nutrients, but not su