Many have wondered which is the better source of nutrients: food or supplements. As a rule, it’s typically better to get your vitamins naturally from foods. But there are always exceptions to the rule, such as with vitamin D (read below).
Since the verdict isn’t so clear-cut, it’s important to consider several key points in the food vs. supplements debate. The first matter is quality. Not all supplements are created equal. Aside from sourcing and formulations, there’s a whole side argument over natural versus synthetic supplements. Also, many supplements have fillers, which reduce their effectiveness and may even be harmful to your health. In response to this, many people purchase premium supplements, but when tested, even some whole food products have revealed lead contamination.
And then there’s the issue of absorption. The digestive system must extract the nutrients you need from food and supplements, but the body’s absorption of vitamins can be affected by several factors, including competition of digestion and the addition of other supplements.
With so many elements to consider in the discussion over food vs. supplements, let’s see how a handful of common vitamins perform head-to-head with food:
Vitamin B12 contains the mineral cobalt which is necessary for proper red blood cell formation. B12 is naturally found in animal products but typically isn’t found in plant foods.
Since 10-30 percent of older people don’t properly digest vitamin B12, it’s recommended that anyone older than 50 take a B12 supplement daily.
For Vitamin B12, the winner is supplements.
When you consider the word calcium, the first thing that pops into your mind is probably milk (specifically) or dairy (generally). While those are excellent sources of calcium, the mineral can also be found in leafy greens, tofu, and almonds. The positive effects of calcium are well known: the mineral strengthens bones and prevents fractures.
As the most abundant mineral in the entire body, the safest way to ingest calcium is through food. Additionally, older women who get too much calcium from supplements have an increased risk of kidney stones and strokes.
For calcium, the winner is food.
Vitamin D can be found in many foods, such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. Vitamin D may protect against high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Although foods and supplements are both great sources of vitamin D, controlled sun exposure (just 10 minutes) is the quickest and best way to get your daily amount of vitamin D.
For Vitamin D, the winner is both. It’s a tie.
Approximately 7 percent of the American population is iron deficient. Iron can be found in a wide range of foods, such as seafood, coconut milk, lean beef, mushrooms, spinach, and beans. Iron is essential to the production of red blood cells.
Since the nutrient is found in many plant and animal sources, taking supplements isn’t necessary so long as you eat an iron-rich diet.
For iron, the winner is food.
Turmeric is a dried powder used as a spice in cooking. Turmeric’s health benefits are numerous. It helps in the digestion of fat, maintains healthy blood sugar levels and contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory.
A daily serving of turmeric is 1 ½ teaspoons of dried powder. And turmeric is just 3% curcuminoids, compared to Longvida curmins standardized to 23%. So it’s recommended to take the supplement.
For turmeric, the winner is supplements.
By only eating foods, there will always be a gap in nutrition. That’s why they’re called supplements because they supplement your diet with the nutrients you might be missing by fueling your body with food alone.
Some doctors have claimed that you don’t need to take supplements. However, targeted supplements can make a significant difference in your overall health. The best argument for taking supplements daily comes from Dr. Mark Hyman, who says that if people,
“eat wild, fresh, organic, local, non-genetically modified food grown in virgin mineral- and nutrient-rich soils that has not been transported across vast distances and stored for months before being eaten…and work and live outside, breathe only fresh unpolluted air, drink only pure, clean water, sleep nine hours a night, move their bodies every day, and are free from chronic stressors and exposure to environmental toxins,”
…then they might not need supplements.
Bottom line, it’s recommended to take the most bioavailable supplements that are concentrated, naturally derived, and made with integrity. For all of the above, check out the full line of clinical strength, brain directed supplements at BrainMD.
Keith is grateful to have the opportunity to write about supplements since many of them have made a dramatic difference in his life. He is often heard around the office saying, “We have supplements for that.”