Good marketing, combined with the number of nutrition supplements available on the market, may have you wondering if it’s possible to ditch eating a healthy diet and, instead, get the nutrients you need from pills and powders.
It’s well established that eating a diet filled with a variety of nutrients is an essential building block for good health. Yet, studies show that most Americans are not getting the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables and a growing percentage of the population may be deficient in one or more nutrients. But do you really have to eat Brussels sprouts and broccoli to achieve good health? Good marketing, combined with the number of nutrition supplements available on the market, may have you wondering if it’s possible to ditch eating a healthy diet and, instead, get the nutrients you need from pills and powders.
While it may be tempting to think that popping a handful of pills or sipping a daily powder or tonic concoction will cover your health and nutrition needs, it’s not equivalent to consuming food! A nutrient-dense and varied diet provides benefits beyond just individual vitamins and minerals. Supplements provide individual or a combination of known nutrients, but miss the mark when it comes to other important aspects of whole foods, such as fiber and phytonutrients, that play a major role in health.
In fact, many leading nutrition organizations do not recommend the regular use of multivitamins and supplements at the expense of a whole foods diet. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that “nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods…[which] contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects.” One reason many authorities recommend whole foods is the concept of food synergy, which suggests that the nutrients found in whole, intact foods provide more nutritional benefits than their isolated nutrient counterparts because they work together to create a greater effect on health. Nutrition is also a relatively young science, so there are likely beneficial nutrients found in whole foods that have yet to be discovered and can’t be taken in pill form.
While it is not generally recommended for the average person to rely on supplements over food, there may be a need to supplement our diets at certain times throughout the life cycle or under certain medical conditions. It is best to discuss your individual nutrient needs with a registered dietitian nutritionist or your physician first before starting a supplement as some vitamins and minerals can be harmful in high doses or can interact with medications.
Supplements could provide us with many of the known individual nutrients we need, but a healthy and balanced diet provides much more than just isolated nutrients. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein — shared around a table while connecting with family and friends — far outweighs any health benefits found in a pill or powder.