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Supplements - Friend or Foe?

by Jon Schwartz, Dietetic Intern, Immaculata University for Margaret Moses, Nutritionist, Health Coach

Supplements are a large part of today’s world. They claim to improve an individual’s health, physical performance, and happiness, among other benefits. In just the last decade, this multi-million dollar industry increased significantly and is not backing down any time soon.

Supplements in Nutrition

A supplement is meant to aid or enhance something. When talking about supplements in nutrition, dietary supplements are used in addition to a healthy dietary lifestyle. That being said, a majority of an individual’s nutrient needs should be met through their diet. Nutrients that are hard to receive are often supplemented, such as certain vitamins and minerals. Problems occur when individuals rely on supplements to meet their nutrient needs over whole foods.

One of the biggest markets within the supplement industry is fitness and wellness. Fitness supplements such as pre/post workouts, proteins, fat burners, and many others all promise peak performance in the gym with optimal results. While some of these supplements, such as caffeine, have sound research to support their claims, a majority of these supplements are costly and ineffective. A good test would be to ask yourself: “Is this found in whole foods and is this practical?” If the answer is yes, it would not be worth it as a supplement.

A good example of this is a protein shake. Rather than drinking a protein shake post workout, which is expensive and processed, grab some chicken, eggs, or lean meat. These foods provide plenty
of protein, are cheaper, and provide a variety of nutrients.

Regulation of Supplements

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the governing body that is responsible for making sure that foods are safe. Unfortunately, supplements do not have to get approved by the FDA. However, once on the shelves, the FDA is responsible for any supplements that may have reoccurring adverse health effects. This means the consumer is responsible for researching on their own or going to a medical professional such as a registered dietitian nutritionist or doctor.

The Bottom Line

Many supplements do have proven benefits for consumers. If you are thinking about using supplements, the best place to start is to speak with your doctor. It is no help to blindly take supplements if you don’t know where your nutritional deficiencies lie. And remember: it’s always better receive nutrients through whole foods. Supplements can be a very useful tool but they should not be a replacement for a healthy diet.