Whole Foods vs Supplements
Is it better for your nutritional needs to come from Whole Foods or Supplements?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “your nutritional needs should be met primarily through your diet.” The fresh foods you eat are loaded with the nutrients you need in order to achieve a well-balanced diet.
Supplementation is meant to be just that, to “supplement” your healthy eating when required. Supplements are not in any way meant to replace food and they certainly can not replicate all the nutrients and benefits of whole foods.
The catch is you must consume nutrient-dense foods. If you are a healthy adult that eats a well-balanced diet you likely don’t need supplements.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “whole foods offer three main benefits over dietary supplements: greater nutrition, essential fiber, and protective substances”.
Dr. Clifford Lo, an associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health advises individuals to try to improve their diet before using supplements, as most Doctors do.
There have been many studies over the years, evaluating the pros and cons of supplements.
A study in 2019, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that “multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C showed no advantage or added risk in the prevention of cardiovascular disease or premature death. However, folic acid alone and B vitamins with folic acid may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Senior study author Fang Fang Zhang, Ph.D stated, “As potential benefits and harms of supplement use continue to be studied some studies have found associations between excess nutrient intake and adverse outcomes, including increased risk of certain cancers.”
“Our results support the idea that, while supplement use contributes to an increased level of total nutrient intake, there are beneficial associations with nutrients from foods that aren’t seen with supplements,” said Zhang.
The experts have spoken. If you do not need supplements, do not take them.
However, supplements exist for a reason and serve a purpose. The Mayo Clinic states, if you are a healthy adult, you likely do not need supplements, but supplements or fortified foods may be appropriate if you fall into the following groups:
- Are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant
- Are age 50 or older
- Have a poor appetite or have trouble getting nutritious foods
- Follow a diet that excludes entire food groups
- Have a medical condition that affects how your body digests nutrients, such as chronic diarrhea, food allergies, food intolerance, or a disease of the liver, gallbladder, intestines or pancreas
- Have had surgery on your digestive tract that affects how your body digests nutrients
If you fall under any of these groups or think you should be taking a supplement for an additional reason, always ALWAYS consult your Doctor or Dietitian.
There have been a lot of articles floating around on ways to boost your immune system using supplements. Be careful playing this game.
Megavitamin therapy involves consuming very large doses of certain vitamins in an attempt to prevent or treat diseases.
However, megavitamin therapy might just have the opposite effect. Instead of strengthening your immune system, it could weaken your immune system and make you susceptible to whatever flu, bug, or plague, that is wreaking havoc that season.
For example, someone who already takes a daily multivitamin and thinks adding a Vitamin C supplement will boost their immune system, might not be feeling the same way in a few hours.
Vitamin C plays an important role in healing wounds, keeping your bones strong, enhancing brain function, and is believed by many to fight colds.
While it is unlikely you could die from taking too much Vitamin C, you might experience digestive distress. The side effects of taking too much Vitamin C are typically cramps, diarrhea, and nausea.
The UL (Upper Limit) established by the RDA is 400 for young children, 1,200 mg for kids aged 9–13, 1,800 mg for teens, and 2,000 mg for adults.
While there is a relatively low risk of Water Soluble Vitamins, Fat-Soluble Vitamins are a different story.
This is why it is very important to discuss supplement intake with your Doctors or dietitians.
The biggest takeaway is do not take supplements if you do not need them, and always speak with your Doctor or Dietician if you determine you do.
Chen, Fan, et al. “Association Among Dietary Supplement Use, Nutrient Intake, and Mortality Among U.S. Adults.” Annals of Internal Medicine, vol. 170, no. 9, 2019, p. 604., doi:10.7326/m18-2478.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Supplements: Nutrition in a Pill?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 17 Nov. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/supplements/art-20044894.
Publishing, Harvard Health. “Should You Get Your Nutrients from Food or from Supplements?” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-get-your-nutrients-from-food-or-from-supplements.