Am I getting the nutrition I need, or am I missing something? It’s a question often asked by those with food intolerance and allergies. It’s also a question parents ask themselves when the kids will only eat mac & cheese and pizza.
An easy way to temper these concerns is to add supplements to our diet. On any given day, roughly half of us make this choice. Some do it with the intent of filling in dietary gaps for overall health. Others desire to prevent diseases like heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer.
Are supplements the easy answer? I guess the answer to that is yes. Maybe a better question is whether they will accomplish what we intend.
After her Dr. Pepper phase, my mother began her day with somewhere between 15 and 20 pills – all supplements. After that, she drank a cup of hot water. Later, she might have buttered noodles, a lettuce salad topped with lemon juice, toast, and sometimes chili or pickled beets. When she continued to lose weight she couldn’t afford to lose, she began making drinks filled with protein powder.
Her diet leaned heavily on supplements to provide needed nutrition because her food intake was limited in both variety and volume. While she believed strongly in her decisions, supplements were not sufficient to support an optimum state of health.
A review of research suggests her experience is not unique. Supplements may not be as effective as we hope for preventing cancer and cardio-vascular events. And while supplementation of calcium and vitamin D can be helpful in preventing fractures to a point, in excess it can lead to harm.
So maybe the easy solution isn’t all that easy. To get the optimum benefits, you’ll need to carefully study the contents and contraindications of each supplement. Because the FDA doesn’t not have authority to review dietary supplements, this may mean you’ll have to contact manufacturers directly.
It will be prudent to read research on the interaction of dietary supplements and any prescription drugs you may take. And it will be beneficial to be up-to-date on research showing the effectiveness of supplements in many areas.
For those of us who are generally healthy but rely primarily on processed or restaurant food, it may prove to be less time consuming to make dietary changes rather than research supplements. Even if you don’t have lots of time to cook, incorporating more raw fruits and vegetables can improve vitamin and mineral intake. Choosing farm to table restaurants (make sure they are as advertised) can also improve the nutrient quality of your diet without requiring prep time.
If you are eating gluten-free, you may miss out on the vitamins and minerals used to fortify white flour products. But if you are consuming a wide variety of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and allowed whole grains regularly, you may not be missing any necessary nutrients.
For those whose doctors recommend supplements, don’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure you understand why and what benefits you can expect. If you are willing to make them, feel free to ask whether dietary changes could accomplish the same result. Working with your doctor, you can be an active participant in your own health plan.
When it comes to nutrition, we all want to make sure we get what our bodies require to be healthy. Dietary supplements are a tool you may or may not need. And they may or may not be effective in prevention or improvement of the condition you hope to prevent or improve.
Dietary supplements may look like the easy answer to the question, am I missing something? But when it comes to diet and health, it’s complicated.