Nutritional Supplements versus Whole Foods

Pile of Nutritional Supplements

Supplements are often needed, and are certainly better than nothing, but it is much better to get as much nutrition from foods when you can.  There are a number of reasons for this, including better digestion, less side effects, and the like, but in addition to the obvious, there are micronutrients and enzymes that the supplements just can't match.  Many of the vitamins and minerals are absorbed better when they are taken together, which makes a food like a strawberry, that contains 8 vitamins in significant quantities, a far more attractive option. 

Calcium is a good example of this.  Calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium all impact the absorption of the other.  Dairy products are a great way to get the calcium.  Enriched milk offers the vitamin D.  Pouring vitamin D milk over bran flakes gives all three, and in a tasty and fiber rich package. 

Other points of interest hover around traditional food combinations.  It is no coincidence that corn and beans are served together, nor rice and soybeans.  These foods, when eaten together, also provide a quantity and quality of amino fatty acids that are essential to health...essential amino acids in fact.  These chemicals are not made by the human body and must be consumed from food sources.  This technique is often used by vegetarians to insure that they get a full amino acid/protein profile from their diets, since it is harder to do from plant-based foods.  This is known as “complete protein” and is common enough that there are charts available to use as a guide all over the internet.

In addition to vitamins, minerals, and amino acid/proteins, there's the gut to consider.  The gut is populated by a huge population of microbes, and the exact proportion of what is in there is determined by what each person eats.  They provide exposure to a whole different, incredibly complex, and mostly un-realized and hazy set of chemicals and enzymes.  All in all, it's a better bet to gamble with those whole foods, to give the gut bacteria something good to eat, too.  


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