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Simplifying Supplements

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Simplifying Supplements

By Carmel Wroth, Ode Magazine

Studies have repeatedly shown that the typical Western diet corresponds to higher risks of heart disease, cancer and other chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Bruce Ames, a nutrition researcher at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has a theory about how the diet-disease connection may work. “There are about 40 micronutrients you need to run your metabolism,” says Ames. “If you don’t get any one of them, you die. What we’re learning is the consequence of not getting enough is that your body cuts back on certain functions that affect long-term health. When you’re short of micronutrients, there’s a lot of hidden damage going on.”

The World Health Organization has stated that diet is second only to smoking as a preventable cause of cancer. Indeed, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), American Heart Association and American Cancer Society have made dietary recommendations a central part of their disease-prevention messages, suggesting we eat more fruit and vegetables, replace refined carbs with whole grains and cut down on junk food. Yet according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveys, only 11 percent of Americans meet the USDA’s guidelines for eating five to nine servings of fresh fruit and vegetables daily. The nutrient shortfalls are dramatic. According to data gathered from 1999 to 2002 and compiled by the CDC, 93 percent of Americans don’t get enough vitamin E, 56 percent don’t get enough magnesium, 31 percent don’t get enough vitamin C and 12 percent don’t get enough zinc. Another CDC survey indicated many people are low on vitamin K, calcium and potassium, and many seniors lack B vitamins.

The first step to fixing nutrient shortfalls is to improve diet, says Yale University nutrition researcher David Katz. The 40 or so isolated micronutrients that scientists study – and supplement companies pack into capsules – are only a fraction of the array of organic compounds found in food. Indeed, many vitamins are not a single “vitamin” but a family of compounds. And our bodies need these complementary nutrients to make use of these vitamins. When you get your vitamin C in a piece of fruit, for example, it comes with a lot of other ingredients – fiber, antioxidants and trace minerals – that might help you more consumed together than if you down vitamin C alone in a supplement. “It may be that the active ingredient in broccoli is broccoli,” says Katz. “People who don’t want to eat broccoli and take a vitamin instead will probably be disappointed. If you want the benefits of nutrients in foods, you need to eat foods rich in nutrients.”

Next: The decline of nutrition in food: are you getting enough vitamins?

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Megan, selected from The Intelligent Optimist

Ode, the magazine for Intelligent Optimists, is an international independent journal that publishes positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.


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5:49PM PDT on Apr 3, 2015

Thanks for the info Megan.

4:28PM PDT on Sep 11, 2010

PLEASE be very careful with the supplements- 25 years ago I took a supplement(L-tryptophane) to help my migraines. Little did I know that they were contaminated. I am now left with a disease that is totally dibilitating- some have even died. Be sure you know where your supplements are manufactured and if they are pure.

7:26PM PST on Feb 11, 2010


3:11PM PDT on Oct 18, 2009

"To get a better omega balance, choose grass-fed sources for animal products and eat fewer packaged snacks, fried foods and cheap vegetable oils, such as salad dressings made with corn or SOY oil. And eat more fish, beans, TOFU, flax seeds and walnuts."

um, tofu is soy.... otherwise good article.

1:59PM PDT on Oct 17, 2009

It is really good information, however I think one reason people don't eat enough fruit is cost, with things like apples that cost 50 to 75 cents each it could cost 25$ a day to feed 9 servings of fruit to a family of 4....

6:01PM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

This all sounds anything but simple!

I've been avoiding supplements so far, but now being anemic I need to take high dose iron (far exceeding normal daily recommendation).

I think eating good quality animal products and large amounts of vegetables (even if they're not as nutritious as they once were) should provide most nutrition you need. That's of course if you don't have to exclude some type of food (for whatever reason), then you should look at what you're missing out on and supplement your diet.
The section on Omega3 FA is especially well written here, and again historic records show that people eating diverse and unprocessed foods used to consume well balanced FA composition long before NIH guidelines or any other official documentation

5:58PM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

If you feel the need to add supplements, make sure it's a whole food supplement. It makes all the difference in the world!

11:24AM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

Very good information, Megan, thanks so much. Also thanks to Alex for mentioning "other Ingredients", we really must be careful. It appears to me that so many foods have been altered due to human manipulation for profit, mainly in the dairy and large scale meat industry. How can industry produced meat be healthy when the animals lived confined under extreme stress eating only a certain type of food such as corn?

10:51AM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

A few things to note: If you take supplements, do so after you eat something with that same thing in it. Yes, you may be getting it in the food first, but why are you taking the supplement? This is because you can't always get enough from the food, especially, and unfortunately, today. But eat the food first!!! Otherwise, your body will become lazy and only take it from the pill, since it's easier to obtain. Therefore, it's not only not as healthy, but your body won't get the exercise it needs in order to break up the food properly/digest, and then you'll always be dependent on supplements and also have other problems.
Second, be sure your supplements break up properly. There are tons of elderly people whose insides are laden with capsules which never broke down, causing them all kinds of problems. To check yours, put it in a glass of water and wait a while. It's not wasted, you can still drink it. Some take longer to break down, yes, and even a day later, it's still broken down. But if it doesn't break down, QUIT taking it!!!
Also, organics are GREAT! But people have still gotten E-coli (at least the last thing traced to) things like spinach. Makes NO sense. But it was cross contaminated somehow, so still wash unless you really know your source. Otherwise, with great soil & care etc., a strawberry can be a complete food to survive solely on, if NOT washed. In that case, it's actually healthier NOT to wash it, because we wash off nutrients.

10:47AM PDT on Oct 15, 2009

Thanks for this good information!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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