Supplements or Food: Which Offers Better Nutritional Value?

For strong bones and teeth, you need calcium. To boost your immune system, experts recommend iron. Potassium is good for healthy kidneys. These and other nutrients are necessary to help your body function at its best. But if you were to try to take them as supplements everyday, you'd need a bigger medicine cabinet.

Believe it or not, some people skip meals and take vitamins and minerals to cut calories and still get their daily value of essential nutrients. But research shows this wacky diet is not wise. According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, no one should skip daily servings of fruits and vegetables and take supplements instead. Dietary supplements should be used to complement a wholesome diet, not as a substitute for one. What's more, several studies have found that the vitamin absorption rate is higher from foods than supplements alone.

Go Whole

Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs to promote growth and overall health, and the best method for obtaining your daily value is through a diet rich in whole foods. Whole foods are complex and contain an array of important nutrients. In addition to vitamins and minerals, whole foods contain hundreds of other naturally occurring substances that can help protect your health. Here, some suggestions for getting the nutrients you need throughout your day.

  • At breakfast.

    Breakfast a crucial meal. It is important to get a variety of nutrients since you've had nothing to eat during the eight hours you've been sleeping. An easy, and often tasty, way to get necessary vitamins and minerals is through fortified breakfast cereals, such as Total. Total contains 100 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of vitamin A, B12, C, D, E, calcium, iron, and zinc. Furthermore, research conducted at Oregon State University found that vitamin absorption is higher with fortified cereals than with supplements.
  • At lunch.

    Often lunch is reserved for quick fixes to your hunger making lunch a dietary black hole. Eating a meal high in whole carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins B and C will help boost your energy and aid in circumventing the afternoon crash. Opt for dark, leafy greens, whole wheat bread, and meats low in fat and high in protein for an optimal midday meal. 
  • At dinner.

    Normally we equate the term well-balanced with breakfast; however, every meal should be balanced, especially the last one of the day. Sure, frozen or take-out dinners may be quick and easy after a long day of work, but a meal with lean protein and veggies offers more in terms of important nutrients. What's more, a meal high in calcium and vitamin C can even help provide a better night's sleep.

When supplements are necessary

For the most part, if your diet is well-rounded and includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish, whole grains and legumes, you will not likely need supplements. However, for some, vitamin absorption through food just isn't enough. Those who are pregnant or postmenopausal, are vegetarian, or have digestive tract issues may not receive the necessary amount of various vitamins and minerals through food alone. In these cases, your doctor may suggest taking supplements to make up for any deficiencies. Talk to your doctor before taking additional supplements, as some may interact with certain medications.