Why Nutrition from Your Food Is Better than Vitamins
For decades we’ve been told that vitamins and supplements were a viable and effective way to boost health.
In fact, doctors often tell their patients to take vitamins for better health.
However, recent large-scale studies have shown that generally speaking, vitamins are almost worthless.
There are some major risks to taking them as well.
Bottom line, it’s much more effective to get your nutrition the natural way, in the food you eat.
The problem with vitamins is that…
They don’t protect against diseases – For years the medical community believed that taking a multivitamin would help protect against heart disease. The sad truth is that vitamins seem to be completely ineffective for preventing diseases.
They’re expensive – Vitamins and supplements are expensive. Americans alone spend more than twenty billion dollars per year on vitamins.
It’s easy to take too much. Most people aren’t aware of the RDA for any particular nutrient and when combined with diet, it’s quite possible for a person to get more than they need. Vitamin poisoning and over consumption can cause serious health problems.
In particular, large amounts of fat-soluble vitamin supplements – vitamins A, D, E, and K – cause problems because they’re stored in your fat cells and can build up.
They can interact with other medicines and exacerbate health conditions. For example, vitamin D interferes with some blood pressure medications.
Vitamins don’t digest properly and aren’t assimilated into your body the way that nutrients from food does.
A Caveat – Some People May Benefit…
The only reason to take multivitamins in general is if you suffer from malnutrition or malabsorption, which can be caused by some digestive diseases like colitis or Crohn’s.
If you’re pregnant or nursing then your doctor may also recommend prenatal vitamins. And some health conditions may benefit from nutritional supplementation.
Having said that, unless you belong to a specialty group or a high-risk group, the best approach is to adopt healthy eating habits to get enough of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
That’s the goal of this article – to help you adopt healthier eating habits to get the full nutrition you need.
In the first section we’ll take a look at why natural nutrients are best. We’ll then take a look at how to get more nutrients into your diet, tips for better meal planning nutrition, and how to transition to a whole foods lifestyle. Let’s get started!
Why Natural Is Best
While vitamins and nutritional supplements can play a role for certain risk groups, for the vast majority of people they’re a waste of money. The best way to get all the daily vitamins you need is to eat a balanced diet.
A balanced diet is one that contains a wide variety of produce including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein. Keep in mind that vegetarians and vegans can get protein from beans, nuts, and seeds.
So why is it better to get your nutrients from natural foods? Well, there are an abundance of reasons.
Let’s explore some of the more compelling.
Your body needs energy for every cellular function. From sleeping to running a marathon, your cells need energy and they get that energy from the foods you eat, not from vitamins.
When you eat nutrient-dense foods, which we’ll talk about in the next section, you’ll be able to provide your body with all of the nutrients and energy it needs to thrive.
Digestion and Absorption
You’ve probably noticed that most vitamins recommend that you take them with food. This is because they’re just not digested well without the other elements in food like fat and fiber. Even then, you’re less likely to absorb nutrients from a capsule than you are from a carrot.
Fiber and Phytochemicals
Natural foods contain fiber and chemical elements that just cannot be reproduced to the same effectiveness level. Both fiber and phytochemicals are found in plants and scientists estimate that there may be as many as 10,000 different phytochemicals. They may help prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer, and metabolic syndrome.
You can eat an apple for example, or you can take a multivitamin and drink a glass of fiber mix. The apple will have a better effect on your digestive system, it costs mere pennies, and it provides your body with energy too. Vitamins cannot do that.
Some doctors and medical experts have noticed that people who strive to get their nutrients from food are much healthier than those that take vitamins.
The theory is that people who take a multivitamin believe they’re getting complete nutrition so they don’t watch what they eat. They consume more calories, sugar, and saturated fats.
Why natural? Because your body knows what to do with natural foods. It knows how to break the nutrients down and disperse them throughout your body. Vitamins are packed with processed nutrients that simply aren’t digested or processed as well.
Right now you might be thinking, “Okay but I don’t have time to eat all of the healthy foods I need to get complete nutrition. I need a vitamin for insurance.”
In the next section we’ll explore the many ways you can get more nutrients into your diet.
How to Get More Nutrients into Your Diet
You know you’re supposed to eat healthier. You know that nutrients from food are better, healthier, and safer for you than vitamins.
Yet you’re also super busy and just not sure where to begin.
Let’s start by taking a look at a handful of tried and true ways to get more nutrients into your diet.
Nutrient Dense Food
Some foods just have more nutritional value per bite than others. For example, spinach has more nutritional value than ice berg lettuce. A whole grain muffin has more nutritional value than a bagel.
The first step is to make sure the food that you’re eating is a whole food, meaning it’s not processed. The only exception to this rule might be dairy because it has to be pasteurized to sit on a store shelf.
Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, eggs, nuts and seeds, and meat are all considered whole foods.
Do you love strawberries in summer, zucchini in the winter, apples and corn in the fall or asparagus in the spring? The seasons have so many wonderful treats to share.
Enjoying what the seasons have to offer helps you get more nutrients into your diet. Embrace the seasons and dive into the produce section year around.
It’s also good to know that seasonal produce is generally fresher which means it has more nutrients. It’s usually cheaper as well. For example, you can buy ten ears of corn for a quarter when it’s in season. Any other time of year and you’ll be spending dollars per ear instead.
If you eat the same foods all of the time then you’re missing out on nutrients. Eat a variety of foods. It not only ensures that you get a wide range of nutrients from different sources, it also makes eating healthfully more fun and interesting.
Start looking at what you eat each meal. Begin replacing the junk food and foods with low nutritional value with more nutrient dense foods.
For example, if you normally have a piece of toast with jam for breakfast, consider switching it to a whole grain slice with nut butter. If you normally have a hamburger for dinner, replace it with an eye of round roast or steak and a sweet potato.
Plan your meals in advance and shop from a list. It’s too easy to be tempted by junk food at the supermarket. If you go with a plan and a list, you’re more likely to buy healthy food.
Keep in mind that the healthiest meals are often the simplest. You don’t have to make meals or meal planning complicated.
In the next section we’ll take a look at how to incorporate some meal planning tips for better nutrition and health.
Tips to Plan Your Meals for Better Nutrition
Good intentions are virtually worthless if you don’t have a plan and a means to follow through. You can intend to drive the speed limit. You can intend to pay your bills on time. You can intend to eat healthier, yet none of those things is going to magically happen.
You need a plan, and the key to better nutrition is meal planning. Because without a plan for your meals, it’s way too easy to get take out, eat junk, or just fill up on the chocolate and peanut butter stuffed in the back of your cupboard.
Let’s take a look at a few tips to help you plan better and stay out of the fast food drive through.
1. Know What You Need – Vitamins and Minerals
Become familiar with the RDAs for your age, gender, and lifestyle needs. For example, if you’re a female then you may need more calcium. If you’re an athlete then you may need more protein and so on.
Familiarize yourself with your body’s nutritional requirements.
2. What Can You Eat?
The next step is to learn what foods are not only nutrient dense but will also help you meet your nutritional requirements. For example, if you need a lot of protein it might be helpful to know that nuts, beans, and quinoa are good sources of vegetarian protein.
If you need more calcium then it might be good to know that sardines, dark leafy greens like kale, and soybeans all have a good amount of calcium.
Become familiar with the nutrients in various foods. You don’t have to memorize lists of nutrients and foods, it’s good to simply become aware of the possibilities.
3. Know What You Need – Calories
How many calories does your body need to maintain a healthy weight? One of the issues people have with getting nutrients from food rather than a vitamin is that food has calories.
This is why low-calorie nutrient-dense foods like vegetables are a good choice. You can get your Recommended Daily Allowance, RDA, of nutrients without having to eat everything in your refrigerator.
4. Make Veggies the Star of Your Meal
Instead of focusing on meat for mealtime, let it take the supporting role. Find creative and tasty recipes for vegetables and whole grains instead. You’ll not only save money at the supermarket, you’ll also pack more nutrients into every meal.
5. Variety Is the Spice of Life
We’ve talked a bit about variety. Use recipe resources to help you identify recipes for your weekly meals and snacks. It’ll help avoid meal time ruts and keep healthy eating interesting.
Whole foods are the foods that contain the most nutrients without added calories, chemicals, and sugar. When you’re making your weekly meal plan, strive to ensure that 95% or more of your foods are whole, meaning they’re not processed.
In the last section we’ll take a look at how to effectively transition to a whole foods lifestyle.
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Lifestyle
Let’s face it, junk food is addictive. The sugars found in most processed foods become something our body craves. White flour and starchy carbs, too, and let’s not even begin talking about fat and salt.
It takes a deliberate effort to cut these foods out of your diet and replace them with healthy, nutrient-rich whole foods.
The following tips and tactics will help you succeed.
1. Eliminate sugary drinks from your life. Cut back to begin with and gradually wean yourself off of them completely.
Replace with water, tea, coffee, and other natural beverages that don’t contain sugar.
2. Replace processed grains with whole grains. Start making swaps at the supermarket. Buy whole grain baked goods or learn to make your own. Replace white rice with brown rice and other interesting whole grains like quinoa.
3. Eliminate sugary snacks. Just like you cut out sugary drinks, begin to wean yourself from sugar-laden snacks too. Replace them with fruits, nuts and seeds, and natural dips like hummus.
4. Add one more vegetable to your plate. You normally have chicken and broccoli? Great, now have chicken, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. Don’t have enough room in your stomach for all of it? Cut back on the chicken. Gradually adding more veggies to your life improves your nutrition and your energy levels.
5. Have fun with recipes. Learn at least one new recipe each week. This makes learning to eat healthier fun and interesting.
Vitamins just aren’t what we thought they were. They don’t protect our health and they don’t give us the nutrition that we thought we were getting. And there are risks to taking vitamins too.
Unless you’re dealing with a condition that requires supplementation to ensure health, the best way to get your nutrition is the natural way, through the food that you eat.
Learn to identify what your nutritional needs are. Begin embracing whole foods into your diet and above all, have fun with it. Eating healthy isn’t about being rigid and never enjoying an “unhealthy” snack or meal. It is about taking good care of yourself.
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