Nutrient Replacements: Supplements vs Natural (Whole) Food Sources

By Luke Pearce, B.Sc. Biology, PN-1, NASM-CPT

Inner Element Fitness Lead Nutritionist

Some people swear by supplements; some people swear by whole foods. Some people swear that they can live without eating from the direct energy of the sun. Who is right?

Sungazers aside, many people have achieved incredible fitness results through supplementation as well as through natural food intake. The secret seems to be finding the right mix for your unique biochemistry while adhering to tried and true fitness and nutrition concepts:

Balance is essential. Satiety is essential. No one meal is going to destroy your diet plan. Whatever mix of products and foods works to bring you your balance, work with that. Let’s take a look at some best practices.

Are Supplements Bad for You?

It is a huge non-secret that nutritional supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Does this mean that the entire industry is a sham to be avoided? No. There is still oversight, just not oversight from a government administration.

Savvy manufacturers in the supplement industry regularly hire third party auditors to test their products. The result of these tests is the GMP or CGMP stamp that you will find on the supplements of many top players in the industry. However, even if the industry had FDA oversight, you are still encouraged to vigorously vet the supplements that you use.

It is essential to study the ingredients of any supplement that you use. Do not become overwhelmed by the amount of ingredients in some supplements, and do not be fooled by the words “proprietary blend.” As a matter of fact, staying away from proprietary blends altogether is a good way to ensure that you only take in supplements that do what they say they will do. Blended supplements tend to obfuscate ingredients and may not actually provide the stated mix of supplementation marketed on the packaging.Are Multivitamins Good for You?

The whole reason people take any supplements or vitamins is to help boost performance, improve health, or otherwise “supplement” their diets and exercise. Although some supplements may not be helpful or even healthy, the multivitamin is a great addition to your regular diet to ensure you receive the right amount of daily nutrients.

According the T.H. Chan Harvard School of Public Health, a multivitamin is a great nutrition insurance policy to help fill in any nutrient gaps that may exist in your regular diet. If you fall short in any major nutrient category, you may experience more stress, less energy, and overall lower health. Duffy MacKay, ND, vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition says, “Given that American diets are typically too rich in calories but too poor in nutrients, a multi is a nice zero-calorie, nutrient-dense way to offset that pattern.”

There are also potential bonus effects benefits from multivitamins that make them worth the daily addition. One element of many multivitamins is folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects in newborns, if women take them before getting pregnant, and folic acid may help lower the risk for heart disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer.

Multivitamins can also help reduce hunger and improve with weight loss along with slower aging, better memory, and less cancer! There are some studies that have debated against multivitamins, but rarely do they disagree that it is better to get the suggested daily dosage of all vitamins in order to consume a well-balanced nutrient profile.

Are Healthy Foods All You Need?

The Johns Hopkins researchers followed their findings to their logical conclusion – a healthy, natural diet is all that you need to get all of your daily minerals and vitamins. This is not a sentiment that is necessarily shared by everyone.

However, as referenced above, certain lifestyles that people find themselves living in the modern world lend themselves to vitamin deficiencies. For instance, housebound people may be lacking in Vitamin D because of no exposure to the sun. In this case, no amount of a natural, balanced diet is going to bring the appropriate amount of Vitamin D into this person’s life. Some researchers and medical professionals recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement in cases like these.

There is also the case of extreme physical activity as a lifestyle. If you regularly work out, there is a good chance that you do not have the time to properly eat to support your daily routine. This is true especially if you are living the fast-paced lifestyle of the modern adult.

It is also quite appropriate to consider that many foods that are called natural are not really natural. Although foods are regulated by the FDA to mitigate claims, many studies have shown that food production companies have some incredibly slick ways to get around the oversight. What’s more, large scale food producers regularly introduce compounds into foods that take away from their bioavailability. A harvesting process conducted by the company formerly known as Monsanto increased the natural amount of phytic acid in grains, corn, lentils, rice and peas. Phytic acid is a compound that blocks the body from absorbing iron, zinc and other minerals. As a result, a high percentage of these products in the United States now actually provide no nutrition.

It can seem difficult to find nutrition these days, but the bottom line seems to be the following: Work with localized food producers and vetted supplement companies. Do not assume that government oversight ensures your safety. Check for reviews on supplementation products and pay special attention to the ingredient lists of your preferred supplements.

Overall, keep it simple. Cook raw vegetables and eat raw fruits. Eat as fresh as possible, and supplement where necessary. Finally, listen to your body. It will tell you what your final opinion should really be.

DISCLAIMER Please recognize the fact that it is your responsibility to work directly with your physician before, during, and after seeking fitness consultation. As such, any information provided is not to be followed without the prior approval of your physician. If you choose to use this information without the prior consent of your physician, you are agreeing to accept full responsibility for your decision. 

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