There are several great debates within the fitness world. Lifting vs. cardio. Machines vs. free weights, and let’s not forget supplements vs. food. The big question being “Why supplement your diet?”
For years fitness authorities and medical authorities have gone back and forth about the latter. Many within the medical community believe that it is absolutely possible to derive all of your nutrients (vitamins/minerals) from your diet. Fitness experts argue that this is a false reality because of any of a dozen factors from genetic, to environmental, all the way to how food is grown and harvested.
Let’s look at the argument and put some fact behind it to see why it is probably in your best interest to supplement with a multivitamin.
Where do vitamins and minerals in food come from?
Plants get their nutrients from the soil and water in their environment. Plants get nutrients like , phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, copper, iron, chloride, manganese, molybdenum and zinc from the soil.
So, if plants have nutrients, and animal food sources get nutrients from the plants they eat, then why would you need supplement your diet with vitamins?
In a perfect world, we would all eat a perfectly balanced diet that covers all of our nutritional needs. Unfortunately, this perfect world does not exist. Why is that?
- Age: According to Dr. Howard Sesso, an endocrinologist for a Harvard affiliated medical center stated “As we get older, our ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases. Also, our energy needs aren’t the same, and we tend to eat less.” A big issue with aging is the idea that you have to slow down. This leads to lack of exercise and physical activity as a whole. This usually will come in conjunction with eating less or making poor food choices, such as replacing breakfast with just a cup of coffee.
- Lifestyle factors: Habits like smoking and drinking can hurt your body’s ability to absorb vitamins. Alcohol intake has been associated with vitamin deficiency. Additionally, smoking has been shown to effect vitamin metabolism due to higher levels of oxidative stress.
- Environmental: Everything from where you live to the climate of where you live can influence how your body uses nutrients and your need for them. For instance, those who live in areas with limited sunlight or where outdoor activity is limited due to excessive heat or cold can be deficient in vitamin D.
Pollution in the air, water, and soil can also lead to nutrient deficiency as it effects not only the health of plant life but also our health and our ability to properly absorb the nutrients from food.
The Standard American diet is void of nutrients
Science brings about many great innovations. Where science failed us was in the altering of foods. Sadly, American’s consume large amounts of chemicals in their food. Some of these chemicals or altered foods are actually banned in other countries.
I did a search on Standard American Diet and what pops up as the first result is a link accompanied with a photo of a fast food burger and curly fries. The majority of the results focus on processed foods and harmful additives. Alternatively a search of Standard European Diet garners results including why the French have low instances of obesity, Mediterranean health benefits, and why Nordic diets are among the healthiest in the world.
Look at these staggering facts from studies on the American Diet
- 2005 U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines showed only ¼ of Americans ate at least one fruit serving a day, while only about 1 in 10 ate the recommended minimum amount for vegetables.
- beer represents the fifth largest source of antioxidants in the standard American diet.
- 2010 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showed that overall, only one state improved on vegetable and fruit consumption compared to such consumption ten years earlier
What’s really in your food?
Even if you avoid processed foods and eat a clan diet you still may be void in many nutrients leading to a need to supplement your diet with vitamins. The fact is that the food you eat now is not even the same food that was available twenty, thirty, and more years ago.
One study from The University of Texas analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture documenting nutritional content of produce in 1950 and 1999. The researchers found declines in nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C and more.
Study lead Donald David pointed out that the attempt to not only grow different varieties of produce as well as growing larger and faster does not allow the plant to properly mature within its nutritional density.
Another reason your fruits and vegetables are void of the nutrition of their produce ancestors is soil depletion. As stated before plants get their nutrients from the earth. Crops should be rotated to assure the soil has time to replenish. However, in an attempt to generate a larger turnover, farmers repeatedly grow on the same land and vitamins and minerals are lost faster than they can replenish.
Another attempt at a larger turnover is to not allow plants to fully mature. Produce is harvested early in an effort to not only reuse the land but to extend shelf life. This is especially true from crops harvested far away that needs to be trucked in or produce grown in other countries. Not allowing the plant to mature means it is not able to obtain its proper nutrient density. This is like charging your phone battery to 60% just to save time. You will get less use out of it than had you allowed it to charge 100%. It still works, just not as efficiently.
One interesting study done at U.C. Berkeley found monkey’s diets in the wild to be richer than the Average American diet in nutrients.
Why supplement your diet with vitamins?
The answer is a resounding YES. While it is possible to get nutrients from the foods you eat, the facts discussed here show why your food may not be up to par. Factors from lifestyle, to diet choices, to activity, to where you live, to farming practices all influence your foods nutritional content.
As a takeaway, here are some people that absolutely benefit from supplementing their diet with vitamins.
- Athletes or those who do vigorous exercise regularly.
- Those who take prescription drugs.
- Those who drink and smoke or eat fast food more than once a week.
- Those who live in major metropolitan cities with air pollution from traffic and/or construction.
- First responders and those who work odd and/or sporadic hours in high stress professions.