Every day, we’re bombarded with so much conflicting information regarding our health and what to do. Your favourite influencer can’t stop talking about this miracle supplement one week, then shares the news of another one, the next.
In the spirit of beginning to untangle the confusing mess of modern-day health mythology, we investigated the differences between supplements and real foods to determine which one better promotes our optimal health.
Are nutritional supplements equal to eating real foods (wholesome fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains)? Here is the science, simplified.
Diving into the science:
Why are real foods better than supplements?
According to the science and a wealth of research from nutritional experts, getting your nutrients from healthy, real food is the best way to keep your vitamin and mineral levels up and most active. And it makes sense when you think about it: if you’re getting five servings of fruits and veggies a day, you’re consuming more than 9 000 mg of health-promoting phytochemicals that you just won’t find in a pill. On top of that, certain things are easier for your body to absorb when eaten as food, like the cancer-fighting compounds found in broccoli, for example.
With that being said, real foods are better for you than supplements for the following key reasons:
- Better nutrition. Real foods contain a variety of essential and active micronutrients that aren’t present in supplements.
- Essential fibre. Real, unprocessed whole foods contain dietary fibre, which helps reduce the risk of various illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Protective chemicals. Broccoli isn’t the only food that contains health-promoting plant chemicals! These phytochemicals are found in all real, unprocessed plant foods.
Would you look at that? We bet we’ve convinced you of how much better real food is without even diving into the more harmful effects certain supplements, when misused, can have on your health! (If you’re curious, check out this article.1)
Ok, ok, supplements aren’t all bad…
Suppose you’re a healthy adult who eats a variety of real foods. In that case, supplements probably aren’t necessary, but they won’t harm you, either. However, there are also lots of situations in which you should be supplementing.
A few examples of such situations include:
- Strict vegans, vegetarians, and people taking daily heartburn medication may need to get their vitamin B12 from a supplement or fortified food.
- People who avoid fish should take an omega-3 supplement.
- Pregnant women should take supplements to meet their specific, heightened nutritional needs regarding iron, folate, choline, and omega-3 fats.
It’s simple! Eat more real food.
Just take the supplements you need and be careful to choose the best quality ingredients (you should be safe if they’ve been approved by USP, NSF, CL or ConsumerLab.com). Oh, and more is not better. Unless instructed otherwise by your healthcare provider, just stick to 100 % DV.
Above all, try not to overthink things: Despite what those Flintstone-shaped multivitamins would have us believe, humans survived for more than 200 000 years before supplements were even thought of.
The real solution: eat more real foods. Every time you choose to add a real, whole ingredient to your plate, it’s an absolute win for your health and wellness.
Today’s Daily Action
Take a look at your medicine cabinet. Can you replace all or most of your unprescribed multivitamins and supplements with real foods? If so, skip the pill today, and swap it out for a fruit or vegetable.
For example, can you replace your vitamin C supplement with a daily clementine or two?