In an age of once-daily multivitamins and aisles upon aisles of supplements, it’s never been more convenient to tailor your personal nutrition needs at your local grocery store.
However, it’s important to remember these are called “supplements” for a reason. Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation immunologist, says your journey to good health still needs to begin along with food, not pills and capsules.
“Nothing replaces a healthy diet,” Chakravarty said. “Some people think that if they just take a multivitamin every day, then they can have actually chips and soda or whatever. But, actually, the most effective way to get your vitamins and nutrients is through a healthy diet.”
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and healthy fats still represent the foundation of a wholesome diet. And the broader the variety in your cart, the better.
But if supplements contain the same vitamins and minerals as food, why is loading up on spinach, apples and almonds still the superior option?
For one, Chakravarty said, supplements are specific extracts of nutritional components to a healthy diet. When you’re eating natural foods, there’s a lot more nutritional punch in the food that the supplement doesn’t contain.
“The trace elements that are part of natural foods aren’t contained in supplements,” she said. “They simply can’t replicate the wide array of benefits and nutrients of real foods and the fiber and other vitamins they contain.”
Experts suggest that food offers three primary benefits over
•Greater nutrition from the complexity of foods.
•Essential fiber to manage constipation and help prevent certain diseases.
•Protective substances such as phytochemicals that occur naturally and can help prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and others. Numerous natural foods are also high in antioxidants.
“If you look at the drugstore, grocery store or advertisements, there’s a lot of money to be made in supplements, so they’re pushed by manufacturers as the answer to your nutritional needs,” Chakravarty said.
“I also think people consider supplements a shortcut to eating healthy, because we’re busier today. We don’t have actually the time or the family structures to cook meals from scratch the way we did 50 years ago.”
As a result, people are eating on the run and consuming more processed foods, because they’re more convenient. The supplement industry has actually capitalized on that on-the-go
lifestyle, but if you’re already practicing a generally healthy and diverse diet, it’s unlikely you need extra vitamins.
Listen to your physician
Still, that’s not to say some people wouldn’t benefit from using them.
Chakravarty emphasized that women should take a calcium supplement, especially once they hit age 35, because of inevitable bone loss that occurs along with menopause. Pregnant women or women thinking about getting pregnant should also take extra folic acid.
Another item worth noting, she said, is most supplements are water soluble, so any excess of what your body needs will generally be passed in the urine and won’t cause a dangerous buildup in the urine. However, vitamins D and A are fat soluble and can build up in the
system, making them worth
According to Chakravarty, it’s important to listen to your physician when it comes to individualized recommendations for
“If your doctor says you’re low in magnesium, take magnesium,” she said. “This is the actual purpose for supplements: to supplement your normal diet when needed. But for most of us, the biggest impact supplements have actually is on our bank accounts.”
Ryan Stewart is media relations coordinator for Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.