The Importance of Supplementing

Most people hold a few baseline assumptions about their diet:

  • A balanced diet is all you need for a complete dose of essential nutrients and vitamins.
  • Slash the junk and add the greens.
  • Replace the whites with browns.
  • Load a rainbow of vegetables onto your plate for a combination of different vitamins and nutrients.

We assume, understandably, that a balanced and healthy diet ensures healthy living.

But what if that advice is dated or inadequate? Because it kind of is. In recent decades, the increasing levels of chemicals like pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have led to a significant reduction in essential nutrients and vitamins. Thus even the healthiest and most balanced diet might not give you all the essential nutrients your body needs or craves.

A “balanced diet” isn’t always sufficient anymore

The idea that a diet of vegetables, proteins and fibers isn’t enough may be met with resistance. That’s perfectly understandable, I didn’t believe it initially either. How could I? It flies in the face of everything I’ve been told growing up and renders suspect my attempts to lead the healthiest life possible. But there’s plenty of research from reliable sources to confirm it.

In 2004, researchers from the University of Texas (UT) published a paper in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The researchers had studied the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional data across 43 vegetables and fruits for the nearly 50 years between 1950 and 1999. The study compared the levels of protein, phosphorus, vitamin C, and other essential nutrients and vitamins across the decades.

They concluded: “Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”

That landmark study led to several other studies with similar conclusions — the nutritional value of food continues decreasing at an alarming rate, creating an inverse relationship between yield and nutrition.

The solution? Start supplementing

Don’t let the previous statements get you down. By no means am I suggesting that you give up on healthy living altogether, nor am I suggesting that a balanced diet is undesirable. By all means, continue eating healthy vegetables with lots of fibers and all major nutritional components.

But in light of recent findings, a balanced diet isn’t enough in and of itself. That’s why you should start supplementing. After all, recent studies suggest that 77% of all Americans already use vitamin supplements regularly.

You’ll likely survive on a balanced diet, but you’ll thrive with supplements because they give your body the ideal proportion of nutrients and vitamins it needs. Supplements don’t just help you with certain nutritional deficiencies, but they also make the leap from average nutrition to optimal nutrition, protecting your body from free radicals, facilitating faster regeneration of damaged cells and ensuring you lead an optimal and healthy life. 

Most people don’t know where to start. There are so many supplements and vitamins out there. How do you tell which ones you need?

Start with multivitamins — in spite of an important caveat, you can’t go wrong with a good multivitamin. As the name suggests, multivitamins are a combination of the different nutrients and vitamins your body needs. All of those essential vitamins are condensed and packed into a single pill that you can pop into your mouth, content knowing that your body is meeting the recommended amount of nutrients.

Multivitamins increase energy levels, improve mood, reduce anxiety, enhance cognitive performance, help with muscle development and maintenance, and more.

Beware of fake or inadequate multivitamins

Here’s the caveat we spoke of. Recently, four major retailers—Wal-Mart, Target, GNC, and Walgreens—were accused of selling inadequate or fake multivitamin supplements. The New York State Attorney General’s office tested the ingredients and nutritional value of some of the multivitamin supplements sold in these retail stores and discovered that most of them didn’t contain the advertised ingredients.

But why are there so many fake multivitamins floating around? Dietary supplements are categorized as a special category of foods under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.

According to DSHEA, supplement manufacturers have to substantiate the quality of supplements and ensure proper product labeling, but they don’t need FDA-approval, and they don’t have to ensure clinical efficacy, allowing them to peddle inadequate supplements.

As such, you must be extremely cautious while shopping for multivitamins. You should look for multivitamins verified and certified by USP, one of the most reputable verification organizations. Since there’s no low barrier for entry, the marketplace is full of fake and useless supplements—they might not harm you, but they won’t do any good either. So, be safe, be vigilant, and supplement a balanced diet for optimal health and wellness.