There are nutrients that we, as human beings, need to get a certain amount of in order for our bodies to function properly. Because of different diets, climates, access to food, and socioeconomic status, we are not always able to get those through food. This is where things like supplements come in, as they are able to give those nutrients without necessarily eating the foods that naturally contain them. When looking at supplements and diets, the questions then becomes: “which is better? Getting your nutrients from your diet or from supplements?”
It is no doubt that getting your nutrients from food is a great way to do so! We mostly get the nutrients we eat from out daily food consumption, but depending on your diet, you may be deficient in certain areas. It has been found that increasing consumptions of certain foods that are high in a nutrient you are missing can replenish the amount of those nutrients in your body and decrease the negative effects of the deficiency. For example, if one is iron deficient, it was found that incorporating more foods that are rich in iron into one’s diet was effective in raising the iron levels of that person. Generally, it is easier for the body to absorb the nutrients when they are inside food, meaning the positive effects will probably be more noticeable. Additionally, most balanced diets provide the body with all the nutrients that it needs, meaning there is a very small risk of overconsumption of a specific nutrient, which can be damaging in some cases.
Supplements are a great way to include hard-to-get nutrients in your body. For example, there are many medical conditions that make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients properly, meaning supplements are a great option to make sure that the person is still getting those benefits. In other cases, the body might need more nutrients than what you are getting in your diet, meaning supplements can bridge that gap. A great example of this is pregnant women consuming prenatal vitamins, which contain folic acid. Because pregnancy requires the mother to consume more folate than a normal adult, the supplements make sure that that amount of reached. However, supplements do present some issues. Firstly, it becomes easy to over consume supplements as one may believe that they are “boosting” their body with more health benefits. In reality, this can be damaging and even dangerous. Another issue is that many nutrients “collaborate” with others in the body when consumed. By taking supplement, you may be taking one nutrient without its companion, therefore decreasing its efficiency and throwing your body off balance. Lastly, it is important to remember that most studies done of supplement use are observational ones, and were often poorly controlled. This means that the positive effects seen by the supplement cannot be entirely credited to the supplement as there was no placebo and the participants did not have to have the same set of circumstances (for example, an identical diet). Because of this, the effect of the supplement is not entirely known.
Overall, it is best to receive all your nutrients from a balanced, healthy diet. Though supplements can be great in certain situations, they are mostly unproven to have good effects and do not support the body in the same way that food does!