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To supplement, or not?

Can supplements replicate the nutrients you would receive from consuming whole foods?

August 04, 2022

To supplement, or not?

It’s hard to avoid the supplement craze. They’re everywhere, and it seems everyone is talking about them. In fact, more than a third of Americans take dietary supplements.

So, should you supplement? Or should you stick with whole foods to get the nutrients you need? To answer that question, start by learning more about supplements. Before you make any changes to your diet, consult with your doctor. Be sure to discuss your health conditions and any prescription medications and supplements you’re already taking.

Supplement 101

Dietary supplements are fortified foods or products that contain a specific dietary ingredient. Supplement types include vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes, and proteins. They come in many convenient forms — pills, powders, gummies, tinctures, bars, drinks, and much more.  

Generally, people take dietary supplements to boost their health and well-being by increasing the amount of a certain nutrient — say extra Vitamin E or more protein — in their bodies. Some people take supplements because they have a medical condition, such as liver disease, food allergies, or chronic diarrhea, that affects how their bodies digest nutrients.  

There are some groups of people who may benefit from supplements including:

  • Pregnant women who need extra nutrients including folic acid.
  • People who don’t have a strong appetite or have trouble eating whole foods.
  • Those who are 50 and older.

Do supplements work?

Research is mixed on how effective supplements are. First, know that eating a nutritious diet of whole foods is the best place to start. It ensures you get the balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need along with the fiber your body needs to work well. You can’t safely consume a “healthy diet” of supplements.

Research shows that some supplements are effective for some conditions:  

  • Folic acid is essential for pregnant women because it reduces the risk of some birth defects.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids can be helpful for some people with heart disease. You’ll find these nutrients in fish oils.
  • Vitamin D and calcium together can help keep your bones strong and reduce bone loss.

It’s important to know that dietary supplements are treated like special foods and are not regulated by the government. Despite claims on the packaging, you can never know precisely what you’re getting when you take a supplement. Legally, manufacturers cannot claim that their products will treat, diagnose, prevent, or cure diseases.

Mom's Meals® can help

Getting the right nutrients isn’t easy for everyone, especially people with chronic illness or conditions like dysphagia — trouble swallowing — making consuming enough calories hard. We offer home-delivered, refrigerated meals created using whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins. Choose from 60+ meal options and nine condition-specific menus including a pureed menu.