Supplement or the real food? Which is best?

If you want to take Vitamin and mineral supplements, they should always be added to a nutritious diet and definitely not used as a replacement for healthy foods.

I have tried to take a balanced view so many times, but as a Nutritionist, I always think the real deal is the better option because ‘nature’ knows best!

Here are just a few reasons it might be a good idea to avoid depending on pills and powders for your nutritional intake.

For starters, researchers have not identified all the active components in food. New, beneficial phytochemicals are being discovered every day. When you replace whole foods with supplements, you miss out on those food components that are benefiting your health but that are not yet fully understood.

Also, recommended healthy ranges for nutrient intake are based on what research tells us the body needs to function at its best. Consuming vitamins and minerals beyond what the body needs will potentially not increase your energy or increase your protection against disease. In fact, high doses of individual nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins and minerals, may exceed safe levels of intake and cause toxicity.

Another fine example is that there are many ingredients added to pills and powders, with some supplements being used to fortify or enrich foods. Foods with added fibre are a good example. There is reason to believe that fibre found naturally in food is superior to that added during processing.

My number one reason why food is so much better than a supplement, is because Nutrients naturally occur in a complex combination and often rely on reactions of other food components to function properly. For example, the role of vitamin D and calcium are closely related, as well as the role of folate and vitamin B12. Ingesting high doses of one vitamin or mineral may cause an imbalance. Eating a variety of whole foods provides a better balance of nutrients so that each can perform its function in the body to the best of its ability.

While professionals like me will recommend getting nutrients from healthy foods versus supplements, there are conditions and stages in life when certain supplementation can play an important role. Some examples include:

  • Women of childbearing age

  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Older adults

  • Vegans

  • Those diagnosed with nutrient deficiencies or conditions that reduce nutrient absorption.

So you can spend lots of money on expensive supplements, and they may or may not help your health. In my opinion, including rainbow fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts in your diet cannot be beaten by any pills!