Natural Food vs Supplements – Which One is Better

Supplements aren’t intended to substitute for food. They can’t replicate all the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. 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. our journey to good health still needs to begin with food, not pills and capsules.

“Nothing replaces a healthy diet,” “Some people think that if they just take a multivitamin every day, then they can have chips and soda or whatever. But actually, the best 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, 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,” “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 supplements: Greater nutrition from the complexity of foods, essential fiber to manage constipation and help prevent certain diseases, and protective substances like “phytochemicals” that occur naturally and can help prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes and others. Many natural foods are also high in antioxidants.

People consider supplements a shortcut to eating healthy because we’re busier today. We don’t have the time or the family structures to cook meals from scratch they 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 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.

Vitamin and mineral supplements should add to a nutritious diet, not replace healthy foods all together. Here are a few reasons you should avoid depending on pills and powders for your nutrient intake.

We don’t know it all

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.

Too much of a good thing

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 not increase your energy or increase your protection against disease. High doses of individual nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins and minerals may exceed safe levels of intake and cause toxicity.

Added nutrients don’t always provide the same benefit

In addition to pills and powders, some supplements are used to fortify or enrich foods. Foods with added fiber are a good example. There is reason to believe that fiber found naturally in food is superior to that added during processing. 

Few nutrients act alone

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.

While most professionals recommend getting nutrients from healthy foods versus supplements, there are conditions and stages in life when supplementation may be necessary. Some examples include:

  • Women of child-bearing age
  • Women who are pregnant or breast feeding.
  • Older adults.
  • Vegans.
  • Those diagnosed with nutrient deficiencies or conditions that reduce nutrient absorption.

Talk with your doctor or dietitian if you fall into these categories. He or she can help you determine the correct supplements and doses for your specific needs.