To Supplement or Not to Supplement, The Billion Dollar Question

vitamins

Thanks everyone who participated in yesterday’s informal survey about supplementing. We got over 50 responses on the blog and our facebook page.

It’s clear that many of you are supplementing, on top of trying to eat as best as you can.

The US is the world leader in supplement consumption with $20 billion spent annually, about 30% of the world market. We’re only 5% of the population, though. Japan in #2 in supplements, by the way. See more stats here.

With every man woman and child in the US spending $67 a year on pills, powders, and shakes, you’d expect us to be one of the healthiest countries in the world. Alas, that is not the case.  Does that mean we need to supplement even more? Or perhaps take a better look at what causes us to buy supplements in the first place?

Many of you cite the need for specific nutrients that you don’t get from nature as the reason to supplement – vitamin D for people up north, or omega-3 for people who don’t eat fish.

But what many people don’t realize is that many times supplements can be ineffective or even harmful. The supplement industry is not regulated like the drug industry or even foods. Which means clever marketers can get away with much more than in the food world. Many supplements are manufactured using cheap synthetic versions of natural nutrient sources. Many pills are colored with fake dyes or flavored with artificial ingredients.

At Fooducate we don’t endorse supplementing. A lot of this industry simply feels like snake oil to us. That said, we realize there are cases where a person may need to add some vitamins or minerals (Folic acid during pregnancy, for example).

Ask yourself why you are supplementing? Is it the slick ads you see in magazines or TV? Did you walk into GNC and have a 25 year old salesperson convince you that pill XYZ has done wonders for her older sister?

If you’ve had tests done that show a certain nutrient deficiency, how about meeting with a registered dietitian to build a meal plan that will integrate the missing nutrients into your diet, through food?

If and when you do decide to supplement, make sure you buy from a good quality source, with no artificial ingredients.

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  • Mary Ford66

    I agree with their recommendation about supplements. I read about the study in Germany that showed Vitamin C has no affect on the immune system; yet companies are stating that it bolsters the immune system. Crazy.

    Although the US buys supplements by the truckload, other cultures take their own form of supplements in the form of “traditional” medicine.

  • Mary Ford66

    I agree with their recommendation about supplements. I read about the study in Germany that showed Vitamin C has no affect on the immune system; yet companies are stating that it bolsters the immune system. Crazy.

    Although the US buys supplements by the truckload, other cultures take their own form of supplements in the form of “traditional” medicine.

    • Jeska

      You are truely better off eating the orange. True natural vitamin C can assist. Pills/powders can even be all processed. At least vitamin C is water soluble. Some of the vitamins are not and can build up in your system causing the very thing you tried to avoid.

  • Mary Ford66

    I agree with their recommendation about supplements. I read about the study in Germany that showed Vitamin C has no affect on the immune system; yet companies are stating that it bolsters the immune system. Crazy.

    Although the US buys supplements by the truckload, other cultures take their own form of supplements in the form of “traditional” medicine.

  • Mrwseattle

    The only supplement I’m comfortable with and believe is necessary for my weight lifting/body sculpting needs is Whey protein. After that, I think it’s all creepy snake oil sales as you pointed out. 

  • Espo109

    Although the supplement industry is minimally regulated (there is some voluntary regulation like GMP) there are mang high quality, pure supplements that are completely safe & even preventative. And sometimes a healthy meal plan is great to maintain health, but for someone in a disease state or chronic disease situation, supplements are necessary (ex: DHA & EPA for osteoarthritis or turmeric for chronic inflammation). And if the research is there then why not?

  • Espo109

    Although the supplement industry is minimally regulated (there is some voluntary regulation like GMP) there are mang high quality, pure supplements that are completely safe & even preventative. And sometimes a healthy meal plan is great to maintain health, but for someone in a disease state or chronic disease situation, supplements are necessary (ex: DHA & EPA for osteoarthritis or turmeric for chronic inflammation). And if the research is there then why not?

  • Tom Arr

    Thanks for the followup article that paints the supplement industry with snake oil to properly identify it as the pile of marketing baloney that it is.

  • Gymrat912

    I am cautious about supplements, but having said that I do supplement. Due to my age, minor medical circumstances, and intense workout regime it became necessary. Glucosamine for joints, calcium magnesium and vitamin D as advised by my doctor, B-100 complex, and fish oil. I buy natural when possible. I also take a whey protein with amino acid complex given that I do not consume much meat and like it as a recovery drink after weightlifting. I do my research carefully and make informed choices that my doctor and I feel are best for me. I am more anti-pharmaceutical because of their drug pushing money grabbing agenda and I refuse to take flu shots, antibiotics, or any other drug and am happy that my doctor is okay with that. I would rather be taking calcium and glucosamine than cortisone shots!

  • Monica

    How is the age of a GNC salesperson relevant to this topic?

    • Capn Obvious

      Yeah, what she said. Besides, those salespeople are actaully 109 years old but they look 25 because they ingest all those magic supplements. If you believe that I have a bridge I might interest you in owning.

  • Forde08085

    Many people in the United States do not eat fish and fish is the primary way of receiving healthy and essential Omega-3 DHA/EPA good fatty acids. Consequently many families in the United States are deficient in their diet when it comes to Omega-3 DHA/EPA. 

    ” Heart Healthy Sandwiches Begin With Turke’s Omega-3 ” Help your family reduce the risk of heart disease simply by eating a turkey sandwich.

    Ask your service deli specialist today about http://www.turkesomega3.com  

  • Carol

    No need to take a pill to get supplements — many foods are pumped up with extra vitamins, minerals, etc. Just eating a 100-calorie snack bar can dose you with 30% or more of your DV for many nutrients (even though it provides less than 8% of your daily calories). It’s a bit overkill, especially if you are eating lots of these enriched foods in one day (“energy” bars, smoothies, breakfast cereals, etc…) AND a supplement/pill on top of that. Plus, much of these expensive additives end up in the sewer, because our bodies can only absorb a small percentage of them.

  • Dixter

    B12 is required for vegans. But then the vegan diet does not get much coverage from Fooducate. Too bad. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been.

    • http://twitter.com/DianaLeahWilson Diana Leah Wilson

      Dixter, B12 is an essential nutrient for everyone, not just vegans. However, it does not need to be taken as a supplement. If you don’t scrub your veggies to death, they will contain some B12. Nutritional yeast is another option, as is fortified soymilk. Many foods such as fortified cereals also contain B12 – the not remotely natural but completely vegan Reese Puffs that I had for breakfast are even fortified with B12.

      • Dixter

        Ah, but I wash my veggies and I don’t eat stuff like Reese puffs.
        I’ll continue to supplement with B12. Thanks Diana.

      • Dixter

        Ah, but I wash my veggies and I don’t eat stuff like Reese puffs.
        I’ll continue to supplement with B12. Thanks Diana.

        • Gymrat912

          It’s not safe to eat fruit and vegetables without washing them. I clean mine very well. I agree with the supplementing of B vitamins as with D and Omega 3 (containing no less than 400 DHA) because I cannot possibly eat enough food to get all I require. I also don’t cook much and workout 12+ hrs each week and require a lot of protein. To get everything in my food would mean a LOT of food! I think we all have to make the choices that are right for us as individuals without over doing it and buying into what we don’t need.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/V5CARB4X6MCXD7I5XR3IGIVGWY Go

    I like to supplement because I cannot possibly eat the correct amount of food everyday. There are some days I do not want to eat 5 small meals a day. In addition, I do not eat organic consistently and in the winter time it is really hard to get fresh organic fruits and veggies. So vitamins/minerals could be lacking in my body from fall – spring. That is the reason I supplement, especially in the fall – spring I listen to some physicians and they want you to supplement with about 10 pills! I dont feel the need to do that right now because I am pretty healthy, but not young anymore. I did have my bout with cancer a few years ago….so attempting to take better care of my body.  I realize if I am going to supplement, I do want my vitamin to be organic and food based. I take a 1/2 multivitamin and vitamin D daily.

  • bryneryn

    I’m really disappointed that you cite that the supplement industry not being regulated the same as the food and drug industry as the reason for not supporting supplementation.  The food industry is literally making people sick with its long list of “approved” GMO foods, “food products”, and toxic additives & colorants.  And the side effects of many pharmaceuticals often equal or outweigh the potential benefits.  

    I agree that nutrients should be obtained from a healthy diet containing a variety of fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds/legumes and (limited) lean meats.  And I know that Fooducate readers tend to make healthier choices than most Americans… but recent studies are suggesting that Americans are not getting healthier as a whole.  Consequently, I do believe that high-quality supplements, from reputable brands can help the average individual fill the gaps in their diet.

    As an avid reader of Fooducate, I know you are great at calling out even the most slick marketing gimmick.  But most importantly, many readers look to your company to help them find a healthier alternative to what you see in mass marketing campaigns and on grocery store shelves.  

    So why, with so many of your reader supplementing, do you not point them in the right direction?  Why not say, “we don’t necessarily agree but if you’re supplementing anyway, here are are some brands/certifications/guidelines for doing it safely”

  • Richard

     I understand the concern here. I really do! Thats why I created a blog to help choose… here are a couple things to look for if you do decide to supplement @ http://richhealthtips.com