Fruits And Vegetables Versus Supplements

By:    Published: January 30, 2012

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Everyone remembers their parents telling them to eat their fruits and vegetables because they'd grow up big, strong and healthy. But what if there are people who aren't fans of broccoli, or peas make them turn green? Many people have come to the assumption that they can replace fruits and vegetables with supplements and that everything will be just fine. However, this isn't true.

What is a Supplement?

By definition, a supplement is something that is consumed in addition to regular meals. Its very name suggests that it is not designed to replace nutritional food at all. Instead, they provide additional vitamins and minerals that may be lacking from a person's diet based on things like poor growing conditions or food allergies. Athletes, in particular, use supplements to increase their intake of certain substances like protein or vitamins which they would never be able to consume in their food because the volume of that food would just be too much.

Who Should Use Them?

While many experts agree that the best source for vitamins and minerals comes from fruits and vegetables, there are certain people who should use supplements. Athletes, for instance, place a tremendous amount of strain on their bodies and as a result, require special dietary needs that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to meet with just their diet alone.

Another group of people who benefit greatly from the use of supplements are the elderly, particularly those who reside in nursing homes. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that elderly people who took supplements had some benefits such as higher levels of iron, small weight gain and an increase in fat stores.

However, the study also found that those who took supplements had a reduction in voluntary food intake. The study hypothesized that the benefits of the supplements were offset by the reduction in food intake, thus proving that there is really no "magic pill" that will replace fruits and veggies, but if taken in addition to a healthy diet, supplements do have benefits.

How Many Fruits and Vegetables are Enough?

For decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended "5 A Day" as the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. However, the latest research shows that this may, in fact, not be enough. So how much is enough and what exactly is a serving?

According to the latest government research, adults need between seven and thirteen servings per day of fruits and vegetables. A serving is equal to one cup of cut-up fruit, one piece of whole fruit like a small apple or peach, half a cup of dried fruits like apricots or eight ounces of 100 percent fruit juice. For vegetables, the equivalent is one cup of raw or cooked veggies, eight ounces of vegetable juice or two cups of leafy greens such as spinach.

Why are Fruits and Vegetables Better?

A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition made an attempt at determining why fruits and vegetables are superior to supplements. The study found that supplements are not as good as eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables because they don't have all of the other compounds found in the whole foods that enhance and aid in the absorption of nutrients. The study cited apples as an example.

In the skin of the apple, the amount of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent cancer, only accounted for approximately 0.4 percent of the total amount of known antioxidant activity in the apple itself. The rest of the antioxidants were found in other substances in the apples, meaning that people were getting much more of the cancer fighting antioxidant benefits by eating the apple than just taking a vitamin C supplement.

The study concludes that all of the chemical compounds in the fruits and vegetables work together to enhance the benefits that the vitamins and minerals give a person's body, in much the same way that all of the parts in a car's engine work together to make the car run. Science has not yet been able to pinpoint all of these compounds and synthesize them into a form that can be mass produced in a safe and effective way.

No One Has Ever Died from Too Much Spinach

Another problem with supplements is purity and toxicity. Any supplement can be toxic if taken in a high enough dose. Iron is one very common supplement that, when taken in high enough doses, can cause death. It's difficult to reach a toxic level of vitamins or minerals from eating fruits and vegetables, but just one too many pills can be deadly.

The purity of a supplement can also be an issue. For example, certain types of lower quality calcium supplements are shown in studies to be less effective than the higher quality and more expensive variety.

Supplements can be a good thing, especially for those with special needs, but in no way should they replace fruits and vegetables in the human diet. If supplements are going to be used, they should be used with caution, but when it comes to nature's bounty, there is never too much of a good thing.

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