In the past, we took our nutrients just from food.
However, as we grew up, we realized that food is just not enough in some situations.
This is where supplements came to fill the gap in nutritional needs that cannot be filled just from the food we eat.
However, some people have twisted this concept and adapted an entirely wrong thing in their minds.
Supplements are used to fill an essential nutritional need such as in pregnancy, elderly, and those at risk of being malnourished.
However, any healthy person who does not have special nutrition needs must follow a well-balanced diet with various foods.
There is no need to take supplements if you are ultimately healthy.
Supplements can lead to overdosing on nutrients, leading to health complications.
On the other hand, supplements are miracle support for nutrition when necessary.
What are the misconceptions about using supplements?
Our lives have become busier than ever. As a result, people tend to opt for more accessible and often unhealthy options for their nutrient needs.
Some people think supplements can be a shortcut for them to take those nutrients they miss from eating unhealthy fast foods.
This is an absolute myth. You cannot replace whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, with supplements.
Some people think they can replace food with drinking a multivitamin supplement or some herbal extract, or a formulated powder.
The reason is that fruits and vegetables and other natural foods have phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
In other words, whole foods have a complex set of compounds that help us live healthy when eaten properly.
How can supplements help?
The European food safety authority (EFSA) states that food supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients or other compounds with nutritional or psychological effects(1).
The purpose of food supplements will be to supplement a regular diet. Therefore, supplements have concentrated minerals, vitamins, or other substances.
Supplements come in the form of powders, liquids, pills, and capsules.
These can either be an extract of a natural food, highly concentrated vitamins or minerals in pills, powder supplements designed for specific needs of patients, athletes, or people with nutritional deficiencies such as in pregnancy.
Supplements are essential to fill the nutritional gaps, as mentioned before. As an example, a pregnant woman has an increased need for folic acid.
It is hard to achieve folic acid requirements just from foods. In this case, a supplement is a necessity.
In other cases, a person supported by enteral nutrition and fed through a nasogastric (NG) tube has a deficient nutritional intake through food.
Therefore, it is essential to give supplements through an NG tube as recommended by a Registered Dietician to avoid being malnourished.
Also, older people have difficulty in nutrition absorption, and at the same time, they usually eat less(2).
In this case, a supplement can be recommended. These are absolute clinical scenarios where we need supplements for nutrition support.
Why people buy supplements?
However, according to research, people buy supplements when there is no absolute necessity(3).
They believe supplements enhance performance if they are athletes or bodybuilders.
Some people also consume supplements to have a better healthy life. According to the same research, multivitamins are the most consumed form of supplements, thinking they can enhance their wellbeing or mental health(3).
But the truth is if you are taking supplements without any recommendation from your health care provider, then you can be in trouble.
This is most true when you take fat-soluble vitamin supplements such as vitamin K, A, D, and E.
If you take fat-soluble vitamins in high doses, they can cause toxicity because they cannot be excreted (4).
A follow-up study done with 30,99 U.S. adults aged 20 years have found that the use of dietary supplements is not associated with reduced mortality(5).
So, suppose you are taking supplements hoping to live longer. In that case, the chances are that supplements will not affect your life expectancy.
Why whole foods come first before supplements?
Suppose you are a healthy average adult without any special nutritional needs. In that case, you can fill all your dietary requirements by eating a balanced diet.
According to your nutritional habits, you might not be getting some nutrients in the required amounts.
You can meet your dietician and get their opinion on correcting those dietary needs. Other than that, it is not a good idea to get supplements to replace whole foods.
Supplements will not help you compensate for nutritional deficiencies you might get while following an unhealthy dietary habit.
Other than nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, whole foods can provide you with phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals can reduce the risk of getting chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and age-related functional declines(6).
Essentially you will be protected from most diet-related diseases by eating whole foods.
Furthermore, it is proven that following healthy dietary habits, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, is a practical strategy to fight chronic diseases(6).
Also, whole foods contain fiber that again helps to reduce the risk of cancer, heart diseases, and type 2 diabetes.
As mentioned before, it is like an entire package. In addition, the complex nature of whole foods provides us with a variety of micronutrients.
Due to these reasons, you should never replace whole foods with supplements.
What do marketers do?
People think of supplements as those miracle products that can solve their problems.
They believe that they have found the answers to their insecurities. This is true regarding weight-loss miracle supplements in the market.
Most of these supplements had not gone through research procedures to prove the weight loss effect.
But marketers use your insecurities of not having a so-called body image and sell those products. The truth is that these products can have any compound that could be harmful(7).
Safety of supplements in the market
Supplements In the market are not regulated by the government or Food and Drug Administration(FDA) like drugs(8).
This means that you can make a supplement today and sell them in a market, and no one will regulate it before it comes to the market.
So, it is time to think about the safety of the fat-burning tea you bought from the market impulsively.
Supplements are not replacements for food.
Instead, it can complement the dietary needs that we cannot fulfill from our diet.
Taking supplements unnecessarily can harm your health by overdosing or toxicity caused by different supplements.
It is always better to stick to your health care provider’s guidelines for taking dietary supplements.
Stop the supplement obsession and instead opt for a balanced diet if you are a healthy individual.
When you need the help of supplements, make sure you buy from supplement stores that manufacture in a GMP certified and FDA registered facility.
So, supplements or food? What is your take? Comment below.
“I have the metabolism of a sloth and a body that hates putting on muscles. This curse motivated me to study weight loss and nutrition. I want to share my experiences and knowledge to help you achieve your ideal body.”— Christian Tanobey