Nutritional Supplements vs. Whole Foods
There’s a place for both!
By Mauro Di Pasquale, B.Sc..(Hons); M.D.
Isn’t Food Enough?
Why can’t you get everything you need by carefully planning your diet? After all, whole foods of one kind or another are the source for most of the supplements we use now anyway.
The short answer to the question is that you could if this was a perfect world, but in reality, even if you’re meticulous about planning your diet, you need nutritional supplements to optimize health, maximize performance and lean body mass, and minimize body fat.
Whole, nutritious foods are great for you, but are they enough? Can they supply you with all you need to stay healthy and at optimal levels to achieve your personal health, body composition, and physical and mental performance goals?
If you are a serious recreational or competitive athlete, you know from experience that whole foods aren’t enough. The RDAs for certain nutrients such as protein and various vitamins and minerals mean very little to anyone who is into intense exercise for whatever reason. As well, certain nutritional supplements provide an anabolic edge and should be used if you are into any serious exercise program or competitive sport.
What’s Wrong with Food Today and Why Isn’t it Enough?
Over the last several decades things have changed. Today, whole foods are not as nutritious as they were in the past. Poor agricultural practices, widespread pollution, including industrial waste dumping and indiscriminate disposal of urban wastes, can have a great effect on the quality of food available. Soil erosion can also impact nutrients. As well, the use of chemical fertilizers often results in the depletion of trace elements and minerals in the soil.
All these factors affect not only the crops grown on these soils, including our grains, fruits, and vegetables, but also the animals grazing or fed with these foods. For example, the quality of grazing conditions for cattle may vary widely depending on the above factors and, as such, influence overall meat and food quality.
On top of all this, the foods that come from these nutritionally-challenged, artificially enhanced soils are also subjected to various transport, storage, and preparation stresses that can further deplete many of a food’s micronutrient content, and even macronutrient quality.
Under present conditions, it’s extremely difficult to tell if you’re getting your fair share of micronutrients and macronutrients (often of poorer quality due to manufacturing and processing) from the food you eat since the quality of the foods can vary so much. Relying on whole foods for all your nutritional needs involves guesswork and a certain amount of faith in our food industry that likely does not have your best interests at heart, looking mostly at the bottom line.
And even if the foods you ate contained all the essential nutrients the average person needs, there are still many reasons to supplement your whole food diet with nutritional supplements.
Another factor is that many people do not get all the nutrients they need from their diets because they don’t eat properly. Fast foods such as pizzas, subs and burgers with fries and coke, and even restaurant foods, regardless of the restaurant’s intentions, do not constitute healthy eating. Skipping meals, improper dieting, and eating meals with a combination of high carbs, mostly as sugar, along with processed, refined fats all contribute to our general lack of good nutrition. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty common now for anyone NOT to get the nutrition, macronutrients, and micronutrients they need for optimal health just from their diets.
Many people, both men and women wanting to lose weight, are on constant diets that often are nutrient-poor even by the minimal RDA standards. If you eat less than 1,200 calories a day, or your diet has limited variety due to intolerance, allergy, or just by choice, you will benefit from the use of targeted nutritional supplements both to make up on nutrients you’re not getting and as an aid to weight loss and improving body composition.
Then there are those whose lifestyle is far from optimal, including those who smoke, are under undue and prolonged stress, or overuse alcohol and drugs. For example, overdoing the use of alcohol, especially frequent binge drinking, does a number your metabolism and health and often leading to malnutrition and thus increasing the need for both macronutrient and micronutrient intake.
You’ll need vitamins and other nutritional supplements not only to deal with the problems of the alcohol itself (with the adverse effects it has on various organs not to mention the adverse effects alcohol has on the absorption, metabolism and excretion of vitamins and minerals) but also to deal with the malnutrition that alcohol abuse invariably brings.
If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, you’ll need higher levels of certain nutrients including the macronutrients and vitamins and minerals including iron, folic acid, and calcium.
If you’re a vegetarian, you can likely make use of the various protein supplements (depending on the type of vegetarian) and may need additional vitamin B-12 and some other vitamins and minerals. If you abstain from dairy products, you may need to supplement your diet with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D.
If you’re a vegan (no animal products) then you may need more in your nutritional supplement lineup. Vegan intake of taurine is usually much lower than non-vegans, and I always recommend taurine supplementation for vegans, especially vegan athletes. I also recommend other forms of supplementation for vegans, depending on how carefully a vegan structures their diets, including vitamins D, B2, B12, B6, and niacin, zinc, iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, L-carnitine, carnosine and/or beta-alanine, omega-3 fatty acids, and creatine.
If you have certain diseases, you need extra nutrients to make up for the effects of the disease, especially if your problems involve the liver, gallbladder, stomach, small and large intestines and pancreas where there is some interference with the normal digestion and/or absorption of nutrients. Also, pharmacological doses of certain supplements can be used in both the treatment and prevention of certain diseases.
As you age, various factors contribute to poor nutrition, including both physical (dentures, lack of appetite, decreased sensory sensations) and psychological problems. Nutritional supplements can be used to make sure you get the nutrients you need in as small a package as possible. There’s also evidence that nutritional supplements can improve your immune function and decrease your risk for some infections, especially in the elderly.
Another area important in the decision to use supplements is that of preventive nutrition. Many of the nutritional supplements I will cover in future articles are valuable for protection against life-threatening illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and infection from pathogens, including viruses, that affect so many in our society.
And finally, if you’re into serious training, the RDAs for certain nutrients such as protein and various vitamins and minerals mean very little. As well, certain nutritional supplements provide a protective and anabolic edge and should be used if you’re into any serious exercise program or competitive sport.
Why I Recommend Nutritional Supplements
I recommend nutritional supplements to anyone serious about improving body composition and performance, whether they are just into training or a competitive athlete. And there are several reasons for that belief.
My belief is based on multiple levels, from decades of personal experience, working with others, and using evidence-based research. It’s a combination of long-term research and being in the trenches.
The first reason for using nutritional supplements is to help your body make up for any deficiencies it may have. This is true even for those who consume a relatively healthy diet without the processed and junk food that makes up the diets of many people today.
However, with the preponderance of fad diets and the use of fast food in today’s diet and the nutritional pitfalls this can bring, supplements are a necessity if you’re going to get even the maintenance levels of certain vitamins and minerals. Many meals, especially breakfast, may even go entirely missed during the day, creating an additional need for nutritional safeguards.
As well, higher intensity exercise creates an additional need for certain vitamins and minerals. Significant quantities of potassium and zinc, for instance, can be lost through sweat and urine. Magnesium, sodium, and iron may also be negatively impacted in people who exercise for prolonged periods of time in hot weather.
Chromium, which has been shown to be essential in both carbohydrate and fat metabolism, can also be a problem. Since the need for chromium increases with exercise and modern diets provide little of it, it can become depleted among more active people. I would prescribe it to anyone who exercises as a precaution against any possible deficiency affecting fat metabolism.
By using supplemental vitamin and mineral compounds, we hope to clear up any deficiencies that may arise in these areas. As such, they can serve as a kind of nutritional insurance policy. If you do have deficiencies, supplements will clear these up. If you don’t, the compounds you’ll be supplementing won’t hurt you and they’ll give you the security of knowing you won’t have to worry about nutritional problems that can negatively affect your health and body composition and performance goals.
Aren’t Good Whole Foods Enough?
Sure, whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats, and dairy products have many benefits that you can’t find in a bottle, but then again is the Recommended Daily Averages (RDA’s) of these foods enough for provide what athletes need today?
The answer is no.
In many cases, to reach specific body composition and performance goals, there is a need for certain targeted nutritional supplements that provide nutrients that can be ten to fifteen times the U.S. RDA’s. As well, to provide specific, outside of the box nutrients that go beyond the usual vitamins and minerals. The combination of these targeted multiple ingredients will help to maximize the health, anabolic, body composition, and performance effects of your training.
In many cases the RDA’s, set up mostly for our couch-potato society, are simply not applicable to the increasing demands put on a diversified general public let alone the extremes of the competitive athlete.
In addition, well-formulated nutritional supplements can help counter the negative effects of pollution and stress, effects that will hamper your progress and your ability to reach your goals.
Are Nutritional Supplements Food?
The current consensus is that a healthy diet using whole foods (the meaning of whole foods here is any food that hasn’t been processed and is eaten as nature presented the food) is all you need.
That may be justified when considering nutritional supplement products with one or a small number of ingredients. Their use may even be may be counterproductive as in nature it’s a balance of many ingredients that together have positive effects not only on health, well-being, health span, and anabolic span (vigorous and strong to the end), but also to optimize body composition and physical and mental performance.
My aim in formulating my complete line of nutritional supplements is to make them superfoods. I do that by combining the best high-quality ingredients that work additively and synergistically together to get the desired results that the product is meant to accomplish.
As well, my nutritional supplements contain plant, herbal, and other extracts, which also contain multiple ingredients. The end results are super foods carefully constructed to attain specific effects.
The bottom line is that my nutritional supplements complement a healthy diet and are especially useful when combined with my Metabolic Diet and my other phase shift diets. Both work together to help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be.