Nutrition through Supplements vs. Food

Choose Healthful Foods, Instead of Supplements

Supplements are widely marketed as an easy method for including essential nutrients into one’s daily diet. While some individuals may need to take supplements per a doctor’s recommendation due to deficiencies or other medical reasons, most people can, and should, choose healthful foods, instead of supplements, to support nutrition needs.

Officially, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends reaching optimal nutritional health by incorporating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods into one’s diet.[1] Not only does the digestive system absorb micronutrients like vitamins and minerals more completely through food sources, but research also suggests additional compounds unique to the foods themselves may provide health benefits.[2] Compounds like polyphenols, flavonoids and carotenoids are found in food and support positive health outcomes. This suggests focusing on varied, nutrient-dense foods may be more beneficial to health than a specific intake of individual nutrients.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not set standards of quality for any substance which is considered a dietary supplement. This means the minimum or maximum amounts of nutrients in a supplement are not regulated, and potentially, could contain much higher or lower amounts than advertised. Not only does this mean consumers could be missing out on the nutrients they are seeking, but conversely, they could be reaching much higher levels of intake than recommended, potentially reaching levels of toxicity. Supplement manufacturers are also not required to seek approval from the FDA to produce or distribute dietary supplements, nor are they required to provide clinical research supporting efficacy claims. [3]Essentially, without regulation, supplements may or may not even provide the nutrients claimed, and do not always have research supporting health claims, even if the product does contain said nutrients.

Some Individuals Could Benefit from Supplement Use

While supplements may not be the right choice for all, some individuals could benefit from supplement use, including those with deficiencies, pregnant women, breastfed infants, and some elderly individuals. For these populations, supplements may fill gaps in nutrition and use should be followed per physician recommendation. Individuals requiring supplementation should take supplements with meals, as some nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins require dietary sources of fat for increased absorption and digestion. Naturally, the digestive system does not break down micronutrients like vitamins or minerals when they are not in food form. Therefore, taking supplements with food may increase benefits.

Whenever possible, choose a diet rich in healthful, nutrient-dense foods to reach daily nutrition needs. Not only does food offer more readily available nutrients, but also provides additional health benefits not found in supplements.