Supplements... Are they worth it?

To Supplement or Not….

By Sara Colman Carlson, RDN, CDE

Food is nourishment…our main source of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. Foods also have many other nourishing benefits. Especially plant-based foods that share their immune systems with us in the form or antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. And don’t forget fiber that helps keep the gut healthy and moving. But there are questions about food providing all the nutrients we need each day. And we know certain subgroups of the population do need additional nutrients in supplement form. Examples include those with poor intake related to illness, those on restricted diets such as vegans, and young children who may be quite picky.

A recent headline from Tufts University Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy reads “Nutrients from food, not supplements, linked to lower risks of death, cancer”. The study found no association between using dietary supplements and lower risk of death. The study also points out a recognized risk between excess nutrient intake from supplements and increased risk of certain cancers. For example, calcium supplementation greater than 1,000 mg/day is linked to an increase in cancer deaths.

The aim of this study was to look at the association between dietary supplement use and death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Data from over 27,000 US adults 20 years and older was used for the evaluation. They assessed intake from food versus supplements plus adequate or excess nutrient intake and association with death.

Some of the study findings around food vs. supplements:

• Lower risk of death associated with adequate vitamin K and magnesium was limited to foods, not from supplements

• Lower risk of CVD death was linked to adequate vitamin A, K and zinc limited to nutrients from foods, not supplements

• Calcium of at least 1,000 mg from supplements was associated with increased risk of death from cancer. Calcium intake from food did not show this association.

One conclusion of the study is that nutrients from food provides benefits that are not gained from

supplements. Also to note that more of a nutrient via supplements may not necessarily be better.

This is only one study on food and supplements. But it gets us thinking about the benefits of eating nutritious foods each day. Little things can make a difference like a cup of berries or an apple for a snack instead of a processed bar or chips; a salad with a few nuts, beans and tomatoes; or an egg white

omelet with a mix of veggies. Planning nutritious foods into your eating plan then looking at an assessment of your intake is extremely helpful. Then you can see if there are gaps and if a supplement is truly needed.

Many people take nutrient supplements as “insurance” because it’s easier than worrying about the healthiness of foods eaten. Before continuing you may ask yourself if you truly need each nutrient you are supplementing. Plus are there any excesses than may be doing more harm than good.

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