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Vitamin and mineral supplements are not magic pills that can be consumed in the place of a healthy diet. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

Supplements are no substitute for good nutrition

Friday, January 29, 2021

A stroll down the pharmacy aisle at the local grocery store will bring consumers face to face with a wide array of vitamin and mineral supplements. People have been told such products are the key to good health, right? Not necessarily.

One thing consumers must keep in mind is that they’re called supplements for a reason, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition specialist.

“The road to good health begins with healthy food choices. Supplements are meant just as they sound – they supplement the food you eat,” Hermann said. “These pills and capsules were never intended to be the main source of vitamins and minerals. Dismiss the notion that you can eat chips and drink soda with every meal as long as you take supplements. Making wise food choices is the best way to get your vitamins and minerals.”

Fruits vegetables, whole grains, low-fat proteins and dairy foods, along with healthy fats, are the foundation of a healthy eating plan.

Hermann said consumers might wonder that if supplements contain the same vitamins and minerals as food, why bother including broccoli, blueberries and other healthy options in their diet?

“There is so much more nutritional punch to the foods you eat compared to supplements,” she said. “Healthy foods contain more than the one specific vitamin or mineral found in supplements. They simply can’t replicate the wide array of benefits and nutrients.”

Other benefits food has over supplements include:

  • Greater nutritional value.
  • Protective factors such as phytochemicals and antioxidants.
  • Macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fiber.

Hermann said she understands why some people may turn to supplements as a perceived shortcut to better health.

“People are busy and schedules are packed. Many people simply don’t have the time to cook from scratch the way we used to,” she said. “As a result, people are eating more on the run and consuming more processed, convenient foods. For these people, supplements can be beneficial. However, for those who are making healthy food choices, it’s unlikely the extra vitamins and minerals are necessary.”

Pregnant women or women thinking about becoming pregnant should consider certain supplements such as folic acid. Adults, especially women, who don’t consume adequate calcium in their normal diets also may benefit from a calcium supplement. Vitamin B12 is good for older adults who are not consuming enough food protein.

“It’s a good idea to talk to your primary care physician about your specific needs when it comes to supplementing your diet,” Hermann said. “Supplementing your normal diet when needed is the actual purpose for supplements. They can’t replace a healthy diet.”

Barbara Brown, OSU Extension food specialist, features many healthy recipes in the cooking segments of the popular program Oklahoma Gardening. OSU Extension also offers health, nutrition and wellness information on its website.

MEDIA CONTACT: Trisha Gedon | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-3625 | trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

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