Home Health Debates Vitamin D & Calcium: Supplements vs. Nature

Vitamin D & Calcium: Supplements vs. Nature

written by Guest Blogger January 4, 2011

Editor’s Note: If your 2011 health plan includes taking daily vitamins, you might like to review the current supplement debate. In today’s post, guest blogger and Flexitarian Cook, Bindu Grandhi, reviews some of the latest research, reminds us that too much of a good thing is harmful and shares a healthy, mouth-watering salmon steak recipe!

It’s no secret that we’re a nation of pill poppers. We’ll pop a pill for just about anything – stronger bones, a healthier heart, even thicker hair! And why not – it’s fast, easy and who can ignore the claims for ‘better health.’


So it should come as no surprise that in the U.S., we spend more than $26 billion annually on downing store-bought vitamins and supplements(1). The question is, are they really necessary especially given the latest information on calcium supplements and Vitamin D?

At the request of the United States and Canadian governments, a 14-member expert committee was assembled by the Institute of Medicine, an independent non-profit scientific body, to examine available data and determine how much vitamin D and calcium people were getting and how much was needed.

Here’s what the committee found:

30% increase in heart attack risk for older people taking calcium supplements of 500 milligrams or more a day, not to mention risk for kidney stones and kidney disease(2,3). At that amount, “calcium supplements are likely to cause more heart-related problems than the number of bone fractures they prevent,” according to the study’s coauthor Ian Reid, Ph.D.(2)

A New York Times article(3) cited the same study stating that calcium supplements are not needed and high levels of Vitamin D are unnecessary and could be harmful – increasing risks for fractures, other diseases, and the overall death rate.

Nowadays, routine physical exams test for vitamin D levels and high levels of vitamin D are often recommended by doctors and testing laboratories, which they say can be achieved only by taking supplements, to reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer and autoimmune disease. Simultaneously, vitamin D sales soared to $430 million in 2009 – an 82% increase over 2008, growing faster than those of any supplement, according to The Nutrition Business Journal.

Why are Vitamin D and calcium so essential for our health? Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and calcium balance is essential in bone mineral density, so both nutrients work together for bone health. According to the study, “most people are getting enough calcium from the foods they eat, about 1000 milligrams a day for most adults (1,200 mg for women ages 51 to 70) (3).

Interestingly the only group that is not getting a proper dose of calcium is young adolescent girls. This does not surprise me at all especially given the poor nutritional quality of food offered at schools, but sadly at home too when parents are busy and depend on fast food or processed foods instead of promoting a healthy food discipline of more fruits, vegetables and home-cooked meals. The onus is on parents to help their children get the necessary calcium through healthy sources such as yogurt and milk.

The study recognizes that getting Vitamin D through diet is a little tougher because there aren’t too many natural sources (oily fish such as salmon is a good natural source providing 360 IU). However, many foods are fortified with vitamin D such as orange juice, milk and breakfast cereals which have about 100 IU (international units) per serving.

Still, a majority of people have enough in their blood because they are making it naturally after being out in the sun (the sun’s rays help convert a chemical in the skin to Vitamin D) and storing it in their bodies. Even if you live in a very cold or very warm climate, all you need is 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure on your face and arms at least twice a week. People need only 600 IU of vitamin D a day according to the committee. Below is the committee’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium and vitamin D(3):

My dad, Dr. Balasa Prasad, a prominent physician has always believed that you work with the laws of nature:

“Did our ancestors pop vitamins – of course not, their diet consisted of natural ingredients not processed foods, and they were more physically active, indoors and outdoors. Remember who is pushing these supplements – the manufacturers – always take what they say with a grain of salt, use your common sense and do your own research relying on independent studies.”

I’m a big proponent of getting the necessary minerals, vitamins and important nutrients through natural resources vs. man-made. In my opinion store-bought vitamins and supplements should not be the go to solution but rather a last resort, especially if you fall short of the needed amounts.

I hope that primary care doctors will heed this report, but in the end you must be your greatest health advocate so ask your doctor if a small dosage (300 to 500 milligrams) would benefit you if absolutely necessary (2). After all, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

To help you get a natural dose of Vitamin D and calcium, check out my recipe for Yogurt Baked Salmon Steaks –  do this outside and you get the added benefit of soaking up some sun rays!


  1. Consumer Reports Shopsmart, November 2010, “What Women need to know about Supplements”, p. 39
  2. Fitness magazine, January 2011, Health Q&A, p.106
  3. NYT, November 30, 2010, “Extra Vitamin D and Calcium Aren’t Necessary, Report Says”

Yogurt Baked Salmon Steaks

Salmon is marinated in healthy and flavorful yogurt and then grilled. Easy and delicious!

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Marinate Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 6-8 minutes
Serves: 4


  • 4 Salmon fish steaks (about 2 lbs), small bones removed
  • Salt to taste
  • Lemon Juice
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • ¾ tsp. red chili powder
  • ½ tsp. garam masala
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper
  • Extra light olive oil for coating


  • 2 Tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro or parsley


  1. Sprinkle salt and lemon juice over salmon steaks and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, turmeric, chili powder, garam masala and white pepper. Taking one steak at a time, dip both sides into yogurt spice mix, coating evenly. Set aside. Marinate for 15 minutes.
  3. Heat a grill pan and coat with olive oil. Cook salmon on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side until it is cooked through. Garnish, sprinkle a little lemon juice and serve.

Alternative Cooking Method: Preheat oven to 350 F. Place steaks on a baking dish and bake until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.

About the Author

Author of Spice Up Your Life, Bindu Grandhi is passionate about healthy and flavourful cooking, especially when it’s flexitarian. She shares her health knowledge with the world by providing practical, healthy and tasty recipes as The Flex Cook.

Editor’s Note: To read more about this supplements vs. nature debate, please read “Are Supplements Necessary?” and for more information on vitamin D, read “The Importance of Vitamin D and Cholesterol” and “How Vitamin D Can Save Your Life!

What are your thoughts on the supplements vs. nature debate? What about vitamin D, specifically?

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