How to Think About “Superfoods” and Supplements

My personal supplement regimen

My personal supplement regimen

Most Americans seem to be waking up to finally grasp the critical role that diet plays in their overall health. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s eating better. Knowing is one thing and doing is quite another. Changing from burgers and fries to a plant-based diet, and avoiding processed foods, snack foods and high-calorie beverages is a difficult lifestyle transition. I think that explains the appeal of “superfoods” and supplements. Hope springs eternal for an easy way to health.

The Orlando Sentinel, my local paper, recently ran an a piece titled “A New Crop of Superfoods” about freekeh, turkey tail mushrooms, blue-green algae, and seven other crops now being marketed as nutritional answers. Marketing being the key point. These are just more plants, people! In the article an expert explained, “It’s human nature to want a quick fix. So there’s always great appeal when a new superfood is introduced, but they’re really not superior to any of the other fruits and vegetable we can get in the grocery store.” I think so too.

That doesn’t mean that some of these individual crops, consumed in quantity, don’t have measurable beneficial health effects. Certainly they do. I’m saying that superfoods can’t make up for the deficiencies of a generally poor diet, and also don’t add much to the benefits of a robust plant-based diet. Eating them is certainly good for you, just like eating more ordinary fruits and vegetables is good for you. So eat them if you like them but don’t get sucked into the marketing hype.

Supplements are marketed in a similar way – as the extracts, compounds or vitamins that will make you healthy. And more is usually better. I don’t think so. That’s not to say that some supplements aren’t helpful, but that, as with superfoods, a healthy plant-based diet should be the foundation of our nutrition. Then supplements may be used with careful judgment as to their appropriateness.

In my case, I used to take multivitamins, but concluded that, based on my diet, I really wasn’t benefitting from them. On the other hand, my serum vitamin D level proved to be low, and I now take a vitamin D supplement. Also, as I have a family history of macular degeneration, I have decided to take lutein, which may have some benefit in preventing that condition.

There are many other supplements that may be useful for particular problems or issues. Creatine for strength training, and chondroitin sulfate for osteoarthritis are two examples. Sometimes the evidence for efficacy is pretty good, sometimes not. Study the matter and make your own informed decision.

Here’s how I would sum up my approach to superfoods and supplements:

  • Don’t buy in to the marketing the hype. Research the facts for yourself.
  • Eat the best diet you can right now, and keep working to improve it
  • Eat superfoods if you like them. Don’t if you don’t.
  • If your diet is terrible, take a multivitamin. If it’s good, don’t.
  • Use supplements judiciously for an indentified health need or purpose

These foods are not magic or miraculous.  In lifestyle change, slow progress is often the rule.  Don’t be lured off of your health improvement path by false promises.  Slow and steady is a fine way to get better.  Eat as healthy as you can right now, don’t look for a quick fix, and just keep at it.

Best wishes for healthy eating!

Comments

  1. Excellent. I used to take a bunch of supplements when I was seriously in shape, until I explored the science a little and learned most just passed right through me since I actually had a pretty good diet. The money for them passed right through as well.