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It Starts With Diet: Why Supplements Alone Don't Cut It

Oct 15, 2015


More than half of Americans report that they take over-the-counter supplements, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This has led to explosive growth of the supplements industry, which had $32 billion in revenue in 2012 alone. However, many medical experts remain cautious about this extensive use of supplements. Some Long Island Medical Center nutrition experts worry that relying primarily on supplements will cause people to shirk basic nutrition.

Bioavailability and Why It Matters

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, not all nutrients are created equal. Scientists often talk about the concept of “bioavailability” when discussing the benefits and drawbacks of supplements. Bioavailability refers to a nutrient’s ability to be taken up by the body and used effectively. Although supplements contain large amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, they differ in bioavailability. Thus, some nutrients may simply be excreted while others may not be in the optimal form for your body to use.

Many regular foods have been optimized by nature to provide the nutrients your body needs. For example, the body may have difficulty absorbing iron from a pill alone. When paired with vitamin C, however, iron is absorbed more readily. Both of these foods occur together in leafy green vegetables, making natural foods a perfect source of bioavailable nutrients. There are dozens of examples of Mother Nature pairing the nutrients your body needs while supplements may fall behind in this area.

Food Contains Nutrients Missing From Supplements

Additionally, scientists continue to uncover a wealth of nutrients present in foods that are simply not available in supplement form. For example, antioxidants like polyphenols and certain phytonutrients are found only in natural sources. These antioxidants are abundant in colorful berries, tomatoes, dark leafy green vegetables, beets and other natural foods. Eating these foods provides your body with a good source of the nutrients it needs to thrive.

Responsible Use of Supplements: Advice From PBMC Nutrition Experts

Of course, this is not to say that supplements are useless. Many people still fail to get the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet. A good first line of approach is to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, eating across the color spectrum. Add nonfat dairy, lean protein (from non-animal sources when possible) and plenty of whole grains. This will boost your consumption of naturally occurring nutrients. Then, talk to the nutrition experts at Peconic Bay Medical Center for more specific recommendations about the supplements that are right for you.