Pictured Recipe: Honey-Garlic Salmon
We've been told the benefits of a daily multivitamin: they fill in nutritional gaps we are missing, promote overall health and wellness, and may—may—help us lose a few pounds. But if you're taking one to keep your heart healthy, it might be time to rethink how you're taking care of your heart.
We know that a multivitamin cannot replace a healthful diet. And now, thanks to a new analysis published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, we know one more thing the mighty multivitamin can't do: it can't help prevent cardiovascular disease. Try our 7-Day Meal Plan for a Healthy Heart instead.
Taking a multivitamin won't prevent heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular death. Researchers analyzed 18 previous studies and searched for clues as to whether popping a daily multivitamin or another mineral supplement could reduce cardiovascular disease. In total, the studies assessed 2 million participants and had about 12 years' worth of data.
"We found no clinical benefit of multivitamin and mineral use to prevent heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular death," sums up the study's lead author, Joonseok Kim, M.D.
(Don't worry if you do take one: while a multivitamin can't curb cardiovascular disease, the researchers also say these pills rarely cause harm when taken moderately and as directed.)
Simply put, if you're at risk for any kind of cardiovascular disease, a multivitamin should not be your only preventive measure. It just won't help. Instead, you should work "with a health care provider to create a plan that uses proven measures to reduce risk," Kim says.
Although multivitamins' role in heart health has long been questioned by the scientific community, "it has been exceptionally difficult to convince people … to acknowledge that multivitamin and mineral supplements don't prevent cardiovascular diseases," Kim says. With this analysis, Kim hopes people will stop hyping multivitamins and start reducing their risk of heart problems by eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising and avoiding tobacco.
In addition to eating plenty of fruits and veggies, those concerned with heart health should also avoid trans fat and limit saturated fat, heavy doses of salt and added sugars and sweeteners. And don't forget about physical activity. Most Americans aren't meeting the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or any combination of the two) each week.
"There is an abundance of evidence that trans fats and simple sugars can be detrimental for heart health," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D.N., manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at the Cleveland Clinic. "Both compromise the health of our arteries—which in turn impacts our overall heart heath."
And the same goes for saturated fat, Kirkpatrick warns. "While the debate goes on regarding the role that saturated fats play in our heart health, I recommend individuals avoid eating huge amounts of it, especially in the form of red meat," she advises.
Kirkpatrick agrees that those who want to protect their hearts can't rely solely on a vitamin to do the job. "Food will almost always trump a vitamin," Kirkpatrick explains. "We look at vitamins, sometimes, as an insurance policy to a bad diet." But, she adds, "popping a pill can never replace a plate that has a variety of colors as well as whole grains and healthy fats."