A press release issued by the Association for Psychological Science on April 21, 2011 with the above title is very much in line with my own observations about the unhealthy dietary habits of people who take vitamin pills. I have often caught my friends and family members gobbling up unhealthy food items soon after taking a vitamin pill. When I confront them, they usual answer, “I just took a vitamin pill. I should be okay.” Or, “I just took a vitamin pill; I am entitled to indulge a little.”
I have seen this happen so many times that it reminds of the cliché: If I had a nickel each time I heard that…
I wondered if making questionable post-vitamin food choices was just my observation. Then I came across this study by Wen- Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan published in the Psychological Science journal on July 19, 2011. Dr Chiou was just as intrigued as I was when he saw one his colleagues doing exactly the same thing as my family members.
Dr. Chiou wanted to find out how often people actually got hurt by a false sense of protection from vitamin pills. So he and his colleagues designed a double blind study. All the participants were given a sugar pill. Half of the participants were told that the pill was a vitamin pill, but it was only a sugar pill. Sure enough, more of the volunteers who thought that they were taking a vitamin pill indulged in unhealthy behaviors. This group of people more often chose a buffet rather than a healthy meal.
The conclusion in the words of lead investigator Dr. Chiou:
People who rely on dietary supplement use for health protection may pay a hidden price, the curse of licensed self-indulgence. After taking dietary supplements in the morning, individuals should diligently monitor whether illusory invulnerability is activated by restored health credentials and subsequently licenses health-risk behaviors.
Another spokesperson from the investigating team said the following:
To put it simply, people who take dietary supplements may have the misconception that they are invulnerable to health problems and may make poor decisions when it comes to their health—such as choosing fast food over a healthy and organic meal.
Don’t be fooled. Taking vitamins and supplement pills could be a one-two punch against your health. These pills themselves don’t offer any protection. The fact that you rationalize eating unhealthier fare after taking them further compounds the hit on your health.