Supplemental thinking: Whole foods may be a better choice than pills

Eating Well: A column by Paul Webster
Posted 6/4/18

I was intrigued by an advertisement I saw a few weeks ago about a pill that helps prevent sunburn. I researched the product and learned that the maker doesn’t claim it should be used as a …

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Supplemental thinking: Whole foods may be a better choice than pills

Posted

I was intrigued by an advertisement I saw a few weeks ago about a pill that helps prevent sunburn. I researched the product and learned that the maker doesn’t claim it should be used as a replacement for topically applied sunscreen.

So why does the advertisement lead me to believe it helps prevent sunburn?

Dietary supplements and related advertising are not regulated as strictly as medication, so vague claims can be made as long as they clarify it has not been reviewed or approved by the FDA.

It is important to understand what you are getting when you take a dietary supplement. Dietary supplements are typically extracted, reduced and concentrated elements from foods, such as converting the fat from fish into fish oil pills.

When talking about dietary supplements, reductionism is a term that refers to the science of extracting individual elements from food sources. The problem with the reductionist theory is that individual elements may not be as beneficial as the original whole food. If you want to learn more about the reductionist theory, I suggest you read T. Colin Campbell’s book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.”

Dietary supplements like vitamin C and beta-carotene are examples of the reductionist theory. Both are known antioxidants and studies like the Iowa Women’s Health Study - which included 38,772 women - show that the antioxidant supplements do not work as well as eating whole foods containing the same antioxidants.

Researchers believe this is due to the fact that whole foods contain hundreds of other elements that work synergistically to provide the maximum benefit. Antioxidant-rich foods like sweet potatoes or berries may provide greater benefits than taking antioxidant supplements.

Blackberries and sweet potatoes

Acai berries and acai supplements are popular due to early research that showed health benefits. However, recent research on acai berries shows less beneficial results - possibly because the early studies were funded by people with a financial interest in sales of acai berry products while more recent research was publicly funded.

Whole acai berries do contain high amounts of antioxidants but blackberries contain more antioxidants and are less expensive. For your money, it is better to eat blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, sweet potatoes or red cabbage if you are looking to increase your antioxidant intake.

Fish oil is a common dietary supplement that is purported to support heart health by providing the essential fatty acids known as EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, studies show that some fish oil supplements also contain highly toxic contaminants like PCBs and dioxins. The contaminants are not a result of the manufacturing process, they occur in the fish harvested to create the oils. Rather than taking fish oil supplements, it may be better to consume one or two tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily, which provides the Omega-3 fatty acids necessary for your body to create the EPA and DHA it needs.

Fish oil supplements are not the only supplements found to contain harmful substances. A 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which was conducted by the CDC and FDA reported that more than 20,000 emergency room visits each year are a result of issues related to dietary supplements. Based on the best scientific evidence available today, it may be best to avoid supplements and do your shopping in the produce section of your grocery store.

I need to stress that you should listen to your doctor or a qualified health professional when considering supplements to benefit your health. Always make sure you and your health professional conduct sufficient research to fully understand what you are adding to your diet.

Paul Webster is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, Certified Personal Trainer and a professionally trained chef. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

Questions and Comments can be sent to Info@ServingHealthy.com

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