Why Eating Healthy Isn’t Enough

"Why do I need supplements when I am healthy?"

"I eat healthy and exercise regularly; do I still need a supplement?"

"With a different report or news story every week... how do we know?"

These are all questions we ask ourselves.

Even with the best intentions, in the United States, most American's diets are compromised, as the majority of vegetables and fruits are grown in tainted soil - depleted of nutrients and sprayed with pesticides and fumigants.

Another big factor is your genetics. Sometimes, individuals have genetic deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, which cannot be fulfilled by a healthy diet, and require supplements.

In a survey of almost 2000 adults, the most important reasons given for choosing a meal were:

  1. Convenience
  2. Taste

Which leaves health being the least important value. This can result in low serum concentrations of vitamin A, E, C, B12, folate and carotenoids.

Food and genetics play a key role, but also our busy lifestyles can impact our health.

How do I improve my diet?

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey showed that only 40% of Americans consistently eat their recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

The typical American diet consists of saturated fat, red meat, refined grains, and sugar. This diet is low in nutrients and essential fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential for healthy cardiovascular function, inflammatory balance, and cognitive support.

Research shows that the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 3 to 1, yet Americans typically eat a diet with a ratio of 10 to 1. This shows that we may not be as healthy as we should be, or think we are.

Our busy lifestyles are a portion of the issue. Additionally, the quality of our food supply is decreasing. With these two factors combined, our current American diets are depleted of essential nutrients that we need.

The best alternative to achieve optimal health is to implement both a healthy diet and dietary supplements.
Wait… why is our food supply being compromised?

Even if you are consuming a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, essential fatty acids, and lean sources of protein, you still may not be ensuring ample nutrient intake due to changes in our food supply.

A comparison study of 43 specific fruits and vegetables between 1950 and 1999 shows a decrease in nutrients such as protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. These decreases in food quality can be the result of many factors: nutrients can be harmed during storage and transportation; a 2004 study stated that tomatoes stored for 5 days had a decrease in ascorbic acid by almost 13%. Harvesting plants before maturity also hurts nutrient content potential—specifically with fiber, vitamins A and C, and polyphenols.

Modern fruits and vegetables are also genetically selected and modified for shelf life, high yield, or other growth characteristics. These characteristics are often selected over the foods ability to extract or synthesize nutrients from the environment, leading to a lack in nutrient content. Increased levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere leads to decreases in nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and protein of plants. The fertilization of soil can also lead to harvests that lack in certain nutrients. Soil fertilization with isolated key nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, as opposed to more comprehensive fertilizers, can alter the composition of plants and lead to essential nutrient losses.

For example, plants raised on high potassium soil have higher levels of potassium, but lower levels of calcium and magnesium. The growing region of the plants can also lead to large variations in nutrient content. Additionally, calcium-rich soil will produce plants higher in protein, while potassium-rich soils produce plants higher in carbohydrates.

There are tons of variables and reasons for the changes from rainfall amounts to new practices taken on by farmers to create a higher yield and less loss on their crops.

Lastly, industrial waste and contamination can lead to nutrient variation in plants. A 2004 analysis of 2,644 people found that most individuals in the U.S. carry an increased amount of pesticides and pesticide metabolites within their body. The average individual tested positive for 13 out of the 23 pesticides analyzed. This can be very concerning for pesticides like DDT and its metabolites, polychlorinated biphenyls and p-nonylphenol and bisphenol-A.

What steps can I take to make sure I am getting the best quality in my food and diet?

Choosing protein and products from free-range animals is a great option. Free-range animals produce higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid. Dairy products made from grass-fed animals are also higher in vitamins A and E, and beta-carotene. Feedlot fed animals produce meat containing lower levels of these critical nutrients and the antibiotics fed to these animals can also alter probiotic profiles.

How do I optimize my diet with all these concerns? It seems like a daunting task.

There are choices that can help you enhance your life just by making good decisions. Choosing nutrient dense food is essential. Whole grains and brightly colored fruits and vegetables typically have high nutrient levels. Choosing lean, free-range sources of protein and fat, as well as organic foods is also important as well as preserving nutrients during cooking. Avoid overcooking food to optimize nutrient retention; whether baking, grilling, or steaming, fruits and vegetables should still be colorful and slightly crisp when consumed. Reducing the amount of time foods are in storage or transport preserves naturally occurring nutrients so try to buy fresh local foods.

To make up for food supply inefficiencies, consume high quality nutritional supplements. Choose high quality, hypoallergenic, nutritional supplement brands that are free of fillers, coatings, binders, allergens, artificial colors, preservatives, hydrogenated oils or other excipients.  These ingredients can diminish the bioavailability or health-promoting potential of the nutrients. Remember, just like food, not all supplements are of the best quality.

Supplements provide consistent levels of vitamins and minerals unlike food. For specific health concerns, choose supplements that reflect active ingredients and dosage levels used in studies.

How do I choose which supplement is better as there are huge price differences?

Generally, store brands are going to be made with the least expensive, least-effective ingredients, simply because they are less expensive for the consumer to purchase.

The problem with retail supplements is there is little to no oversight in terms of efficacy or purity.

Quality of supplements and their source decide their price.

Nutraceuticals are supplements that are physician’s only supplements. They are created as therapeutic with targeted doses to correct deficiencies or imbalances and are used as medicine. They are medical-grade in terms of purity and efficacy. They are also made using Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), meaning they meet label claims, have documentation to assure the product has the identity, strength, quality and purity that appears on the label, and they are verified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). NSF is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to protect public health. A supplement manufacturer must seek out verification and approval from NSF and cannot buy their approval. A nutraceutical supplement that is vetted by the NSF and has met the guidelines for GMP is guaranteed to be a pure, cleanly manufactured supplement.

A prime example is fish oil. The price for fish oil is all over the place. When buying a fish oil one should consider these factors

  • Source of the fish oil
  • Amount of EPZ/DHA
  • Whether the fish oil is in triglyceride or ethyl ester form

If the EPA/DHA is coming from ethyl ester then it is not a good fish oil supplement.