So…supplements. (Heavy sigh.)
While there are often reasons to pop open a bottle of vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals, there are often more reasons NOT to do so (unless you have a specific medical condition for which you are being followed by a licensed healthcare practitioner). One of the primary reasons to be cautious of supplements is that they can upset your body’s effort toward homeostasis. Our bodies can regulate what to keep and what to discard regarding nutrients from FOOD. When we dope-up on supplements without a true medical reason to do so, we can mess things up royally. Too much zinc can mess up your copper levels. Too much vitamin C and you increase your risk for kidney stones. Too much calcium can negatively impact your cardiovascular system. And the list goes on…
I’ll give you a very basic example of where we can go wrong with supplements by using fiber supplements as an example. So you feel you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, and you purchase fiber “chewies.” Now you’re pooping! But wait – how about we take a look at why you weren’t getting enough fiber in the first place? Oh, that’s right, you can’t remember the last time you had a vegetable, fruit, or whole grain? I see. So, the fiber “chewy” or the spoonful of psyllium solves your problem…or does it?
You see, when you feel you need a supplement for any reason, the bigger question to ask yourself is “why do I feel as though I’m deficient in this nutrient?” In the example of fiber, you may replace the fiber with the supplement; but it would be literally impossible to replace the other effects that we achieve from adequate fiber intake from real foods. Brace yourself – this is what the health-food-store-rangers that sold you those fiber chewies are not going to explain (because most aren’t credentialed nutrition experts) – dietary fiber is more than mathematical goal to achieve each day. The evidence-based literature shows that individuals who consume adequate fiber tend to weigh less, feel full longer, have better cholesterol levels, have healthier colons, etc. But – don’t miss this – is it the fact that they consumed 25-35 grams of dietary fiber daily, or is it because they achieved this intake of fiber through the consumption of whole vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains?
Ask yourself this: would I feel more full and satisfied from consuming a half cup of apple juice or from consuming a whole apple? The thing is, when we eat fiber-rich FOODS (rather than buying fiber in a bottle), we fill up a portion of our bellies. We also get antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates (carbs are not always “bad;” stay tuned for future posts…), and often protein and fat as well. When we eat whole plant foods, we get a psychological degree of satisfaction from all the chewing we have to do.
So, will a fiber supplement help me achieve adequate fiber daily? Sure. Will it help me be more regular [with bowel movements]? Maybe, but not if you don’t increase water intake. Will it make me healthier overall? Not if you don’t simply choose to improve your overall eating habits to include whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, and some plant-based proteins often.
Eat. Real. Food. (And eat mostly plants.)
- A supplement cannot and will not replace the impact that improving overall eating habits will have on your overall health. It just simply cannot. (Sorry, it’s just science!) Individual medical needs are the only exception to this rule.
- Potato chips don’t count as increasing your whole vegetable intake!
- Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber FROM FOOD daily, and you will likely achieve a significant increase in MANY essential nutrients and phytochemicals.
- Increase your water intake to at least 60-80 oz water per day (individual needs will vary), especially when you are increasing fiber intake. Increases in fiber in the absence of adequate water = constipation.