By Jordan Layton
Supplements have become tremendously popular in recent years, not only among athletes, but also among everyday people seeking the keys to youth, vitality and longevity. It seems there isn’t a disease or ailment in existence that can’t be prevented by regular consumption of a specific vitamin, mineral, herb or other nutrient. With so many different products on the market, you might find yourself wondering if it’s even possible to optimize your health without the use of supplements.
The Benefits of Whole Foods
Fortunately, the answer to that question is yes. By eating a variety of the right whole foods, you can achieve high levels of dietary health and physical fitness. In fact, research finds that whole foods are actually a far better option than supplements alone. The reason for this is what is known as Food Synergy or Nutritional Synergy.
The vitamins and minerals found in a given food are not the only ingredients that offer health benefits.
For example, the phytonutrient Lycopene (most notably found in tomatoes) was discovered to help prevent prostate cancer. Interestingly, studies tracking the use of synthetic Lycopene supplements have provided inconclusive results with regard to cancer prevention. But studies focusing on the consumption of tomato sauce consistently showed that just two servings a week could reduce the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 23%.
The Biological Web of Nutrition
Essentially, what researchers are finding is that calcium, vitamin C and pretty much all other nutrients are not solely responsible for the benefits they are expected to provide. It is the combination of said nutrients and their entire biological web of interlinking compounds that give our bodies the nourishment they need. Supplements offer just one link in that complex chain. You wouldn’t expect a plant to grow without sunshine and water. Likewise, you can’t expect five oranges worth of vitamin C tablets to provide you with the same nutritional benefits as five actual oranges would.
Supplements Step In
That’s not to say that supplements are unhealthy or even useless. It’s just that they were never meant to replace nutrients that are available in whole foods. The intended use of a supplement is communicated in its name. It’s meant to supplement your diet and provide some nutrition where there might be a deficiency. Used in this way, they make an excellent addition to your whole foods diet.
– Jordan Layton is a professional health and wellness writer for Sports Nutrition.