Americans spend over $34 billion on alternative medicine each year.1 The bulk of this expense goes toward nutritional supplements. As the supplement market continues to expand, questions about vitamin use persist: “Do you really need 12 different supplements a day? If you eat relatively healthy, including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, shouldn’t that be enough?”
Here are four main reasons to consider taking supplements:
1. Nutrient-Deficient Diet
Many Americans neglect eating the most nutrient-rich foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, which are needed for the body to stay healthy. Instead, most individuals eat processed, easy-to-grab foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition. It is understandable that most Americans are nutritionally deficient, when the two main vegetables in their diet are tomatoes and potatoes in the form of ketchup and French fries.2
According to a National Health and Nutritional Survey, the majority of Americans fall short on nutrition. This survey reported that on average, Americans consume fruits and vegetables only 1–2 times per day. Not surprisingly, approximately 10% or less of the population met the USDA guideline of eating a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.3-5
2. Quality of Food
The nutritional content of our food has significantly changed over the years. Unless you have your own garden, most likely you rely on commercial agriculture for fruits and vegetables.6,7 In the post-World War II era, commercial farmers discovered that healthy-looking, colorful crops could be produced with less effort by replacing standard mulch and manure fertilizers with nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) fertilizer. Over time, the NPK fertilizer yielded crops that were deficient in many other essential micronutrients.
If the nutrients are deficient in our soil, they will be deficient in our foods. It may not be coincidental to note that these changes have paralleled a sharp rise in many chronic degenerative diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Nutrient-deficient food has also contributed to sub-clinical nutritional deficiencies that affect the world population.8
The change in the modern diet from a hunter-gatherer has also had an impact on health. A diet higher in cereal grains has become a double-edged sword. While providing food and calories for a growing world population, the change has led to a decrease in the actual ratios of highly nutritious foods to less dense nutrition being consumed. Increasing carbohydrates and decreasing protein, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that were once readily consumed has resulted in poorer health. In most parts of the world, wherever a cereal-based diet has replaced a primarily animal-protein diet, there is a noted reduction in stature, an increase in infant mortality, anemia, incidence of infectious disease, bone disorders, and cavities, plus a decrease in life span.9
Furthermore, as foods are processed, the nutrients are stripped down further. This makes foods that seem healthy truly devoid of nutritional value. Commercial milling of cereal grains removes the bran and germ from the starchy endosperm, the latter being what is ground into flour. This process reduces the amount of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids.10 And by removing the fatty acid content from the flour, any resulting bread will last longer on a store shelf, passing itself off as food but really offering little health value.
3. Varied Nutritional Needs
When it comes to nutritional requirements, what your body needs is determined on an individual basis. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs), developed back in the 1940’s when our food and soil were very different, are an overall guideline to follow. It is truly impossible for the RDA estimate to meet the needs of every individual. In 2004 a study showed that in order to improve weight loss in adults, protein levels above the RDA would be necessary, depicting the RDA levels as inadequate.11 Therefore, supplementation may be needed to replenish specific nutritional shortfalls.
4. Antioxidant Protection
Our environment bombards us with an increasingly high level of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress comes from air and water pollution, consumption of fats and fried foods, diets high in sugar, smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, medications, sleep deprivation, emotional stress, and excessive exercise.
The accumulation of oxidative stress leads to chronic diseases, including cancer. We know that cancer is a preventable disease that requires long-term lifestyle commitments to better habits. Pharmaceutica Research in 2008 reported that 1 million Americans and more than 10 million people worldwide were expected to be diagnosed with cancer. Of those figures, only 5–10% of all those cancers will have been caused by genetic defects whereas 90–95% of them are rooted in environment and lifestyle. The report goes further stating that tobacco will account for 25–30% of cancer deaths; diet will be related to 30–35%; and infections will likely cause 15–20%. The remaining cancer deaths would be due to environmental pollutants, stress, radiation, and other factors.12
According to former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, our current dietary practices contribute to many of these chronic diseases:
The preponderance of the evidence … substantiates an association between dietary factors and rates of chronic disease. In particular, the evidence suggests strongly that a dietary pattern that contains excessive intake of foods high in calories, fat (especially saturated fat), cholesterol, and sodium, but that is low in complex carbohydrates and fiber, is one that contributes significantly to the high rates of major chronic diseases among Americans. It also suggests that reversing such dietary patterns should lead to a reduced incidence of these chronic diseases.13
While supplements help maintain nutrient levels and provide greater protection from chronic ailments, don’t expect them to counterbalance a diet of fried, sugar-laden foods. A balanced diet, exercise, and supplements are essential to a healthy lifestyle, as the body needs all the help it can get to sustain energy, immunity, cognitive function, and overall health.
- Horrigan BJ. Americans spent $33.9 billion out-of-pocket on CAM. Explore (NY). 2009 Nov-Dec;5(6):324-5. Retrieved on August 12, 2013 from http://nccam.nih.gov/news/2009/073009.htm
- USDA. Economic Research Service. Retrieved on August 12, 2013 from http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/vegetables-pulses/potatoes.aspx
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). State-specific trends in fruit and vegetable consumption among adults — United States, 2000-2009. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2010 Sep 10;59(35):1125-30.
- State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2013. Retrieved on August 12, 2013 http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/State-Indicator-Report-Fruits-Vegetables-2013.pdf
- State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables 2009. Retrieved on August 12, 2013 http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/StateIndicatorReport2009.pdf
- Esther G. Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? Because of soil depletion, crops grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. Sci Am. April 27, 2011. Retrieved on August 12, 2013 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss&print=true
- Davis DR, et al. Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6):669-82.
- Serdula M, et al. Flour fortification with iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and zinc: Proceedings of the Second Technical Workshop on Wheat Flour Fortification. Food Nutr Bull. 2010;31(1 Suppl):3S-96S.
- Cordain L. Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword. World Rev Nutr Diet. Basel, Karger, 1999, vol 84, pp 19–73.
- Slavin J. Grain Processing and Nutrition. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2000 Jul;40(4):309–326. Layman DK. Protein quantity and quality at levels above the RDA improves adult weight loss. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6 Suppl):631S-636S.
- Anand P, et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharm Res. 2008 September;25(9):2097–2116.
- Koop CE. The Surgeon General's Report on NUTRITION AND HEALTH Summary and Recommendations 1988 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Public Health Service DHHS (PHS) Publication No. 88-50211. Retrieved August 13, 2013 http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBCRT.ocr