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Greg Wells, a Toronto physiologist, says you can get vitamins C and E by eating lots of colourful fruits and vegetables.Rebecca Cook/REUTERS

The other day my husband was watching me as I methodically counted out the kaleidoscope of vitamins and supplements I take each morning to improve my mind, bones, heart, skin, eyesight ... You get the drift. Slightly embarrassed, it got me thinking: Do I really need all these pretty pills? Are they doing me any good?

Greg Wells, a Toronto physiologist, says most of us can save a lot of money – and do our health a great big favour – by simply paying more attention to what we eat.

“You will end up with most of the vitamins and minerals you need by eating a whole-food, plant-based diet that is as organic as possible,” says Wells, author of The Ripple Effect: Sleep Better. Eat Better. Move Better. Think Better. “Food – not processed foods – is almost always better for us than a supplement. It’s all about creating a high-nutrient eating pattern rather than a high-calorie eating pattern. Nutrient-dense food is one of the most effective ways to improve your health status.”

Long Canadian winters with limited sunlight mean a lot of us are deficient in vitamin D. But rather than take supplements, Wells recommends eating foods such as salmon, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms and milk fortified with vitamin D. He also says it’s important to ensure we get enough antioxidants in our diet.

We can bolster our intake by eating foods rich in beta-carotene and vitamins C and E. “You’ll find them in colourful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange and yellow hues, which are also good for prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

Over all, Wells says we need not worry too much about taking specific vitamins unless we’ve had comprehensive blood work that has identified deficiencies. The doctor himself was surprised recently to learn he’s low in magnesium (found in beans, nuts, whole grains and green, leafy vegetables) and vitamin B12 (found in beef and fish, although Wells prefers organic grass-fed beef). These foods are now at the top of his shopping list.

Simply put: Eat the rainbow.