Is There a Difference Whether Our Vitamins & Nutrients Come from Food or Supplements?

We hear it all the time – eat a healthy diet and it will reduce our chances of illnesses and help us live longer. It’s been written about many times and proven many times that a healthy diet reduces our chances of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, liver disease, strokes, cancers and many other health conditions.

These warnings have led to dozens of diets, some good, some not so good and some became more of a fad than a real healthy impact. Diets can vary as much as the choices one has at the state fair or beer convention. Some say eat more protein. Another says eat more fat and yet another says to cut out protein and fat and eat all veggies and fruits. One thing is certain, they all can’t be right and they all aren’t necessarily wrong.

Many of us have tried different diets over the years, trying to lose weight and become healthier. Personally, I’ve tried Weight Watchers, years ago, but stopped because of the cost. I’ve tried counting calories, reading product labels and eating like a rabbit. Years ago, I went on a personal diet of eating only an average plate of food at dinner and nothing else. I did this for about a month and half and lost lots of weight. I also ended up getting sick. As a diabetic, I’ve gone on a Zone Perfect diet and it worked in helping reduce my blood sugar level and losing weight, but, I’m human and eventually gave in to temptation.

I even went on a natural diet, eating mostly fresh fruit and vegetables. Everyone said kale was the health panacea. It was good for the heart and good for blood sugar, but it wasn’t good for my taste buds.

I tried adding ground flax seed to my food, but like kale, my taste buds rejected it and guess who won out?

Consequently, I turned to more vitamins and supplements that contain the same vital ingredients as the healthy foods like kale and flax seed and I’m not alone. The vitamin and supplement industry is a multi-billion industry.

Years ago, vitamins were on one shelf and a few supplements were either on the same shelf or part of the next shelf in most stores that sold them. In today’s culture, grocery, drug and other stores have numerous shelves devoted to vitamins and supplements. And then there are stores where that’s pretty much all they sell.

Does it mean that taking vitamins and supplements is just as healthy as getting them from the foods we eat?

If you answered yes, think again and check this out what Fang Fang Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University  had to say about his recent study:

“As potential benefits and harms of supplement use continue to be studied, some studies have found associations between excess nutrient intake and adverse outcomes, including increased risk of certain cancers. It is important to understand the role that the nutrient and its source might play in health outcomes, particularly if the effect might not be beneficial.”

Among the finds of the study are:

For the association between nutrient intake and the risk of death, the researchers found:

  • Adequate intakes of vitamin K and magnesium were associated with a lower risk of death;
  • Adequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc were associated with a lower risk of death from CVD; and
  • Excess intake of calcium was associated with higher risk of death from cancer.

When sources of nutrient intake (food vs. supplement) were evaluated, the researchers found:

  • The lower risk of death associated with adequate nutrient intakes of vitamin K and magnesium was limited to nutrients from foods, not from supplements;
  • The lower risk of death from CVD associated with adequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin K, and zinc was limited to nutrients from foods, not from supplements; and
  • Calcium intake from supplement totals of at least 1,000 mg/day was associated with increased risk of death from cancer but there was no association for calcium intake from foods.

As much as I hate to admit it, taking supplements may help, but not nearly as much as I or many others thought. The better we eat, the healthier and longer we may live.

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