Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Food for Thought

In this month's Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA] researchers from Tuft's University question the use of supplements for vitamins, minerals and nutrients, Essential Nutrients: Food or Supplements?

The consumption of adequate levels and proper balance of essential nutrients is critical for maintaining health. The identification, isolation, and purification of nutrients in the early 20th century raised the possibility that optimal health outcomes could be realized through nutrient supplementation. Recent attempts using this approach for cardiovascular disease and lung cancer have been disappointing, as demonstrated with vitamin E and beta carotene. Moreover, previously unrecognized risks caused by nutrient toxicity and nutrient interactions have surfaced during intervention studies. The most promising data in the area of nutrition and positive health outcomes relate to dietary patterns, not nutrient supplements. These data suggest that other factors in food or the relative presence of some foods and the absence of other foods are more important than the level of individual nutrients consumed. Finally, unknown are the implications on public health behavior of shifting the emphasis away from food toward nutrient supplements. Notwithstanding the justification for targeting recommendations for nutrient supplements to certain segments of the population (eg, the elderly), there are insufficient data to justify an alteration in public health policy from one that emphasizes food and diet to one that emphasizes nutrient supplements.


While we have a good understanding of the various essential vitamins, minerals and elements required for optimal health, we still do not fully understand how various co-factors in food work in concert with each other. Based on this most recent data, other factors in food are more important than the level of individual nutrients consumed. Almost all of the science on various nutrients is in "isolation" - that is, investigating a particular nutrient by itself or with a limited spectrum of other nutrients.

It is only in the last 100-or-so years we've had the technology to isolate vitmains, minerals and elements and actually create supplements. Prior to this "advancement" eating a nutrient-dense diet was the key to optimal health. Even with our technological advancement, this remains true today also - you are better off eating a nutrient-dense diet than relying on supplements to meet your nutrient requirements.

Eating a nutrient-dense diet, however, means making some radical changes to your diet if you're currently eating the standard American diet which is calorie-dense and nutritionally bankrupt - supplements will do little to improve your health if you are consuming a poor diet.

A nutrient-dense diet starts with real, whole foods that includes natural fats and oils, high quality proteins and a selection of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and perhaps some whole grains.

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