Issues and Challenges

Getting Essential Nutrients from Diet Vs. Supplements

Vitamins and minerals are just as essential for the survival of human beings as air and water. A balanced diet is one which contains all the essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals in amounts sufficient enough to maintain bodily health and wellbeing. 
Epidemics such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have become a major problem in Pakistan, especially for women. On top of all this, there is a conflicting opinion regarding nutritional intake and ways of obtaining the right nutrients.
Are we getting enough vitamins and minerals in our diet? It is quite a common practice these days that many of us avoid nutrient-rich foods, which contain surplus amounts of vitamins and minerals, and go for supplements with the misconception in mind that it would help in losing weight. 
Are We Depending Too Much On Supplements?
The argument on supplements vs. food has been there ever since companies decided to bottle nutrients and sell them to people promising results that cannot be achieved through artificial means.
Most of us have this concept in mind that supplements are the substitute of a nutritious diet in order to get vitamins and minerals. This concept cannot be justified through any scientific theory and lurks far from the truth. In fact, it is recommended by doctors and nutritionists to get your nutrients from food first. A healthy diet is not only rich in excessive amounts of minerals and vitamins, but also contains a whole bunch of other nutrients that are not found in supplements, such as different varieties of fiber, which are good for digestion, antioxidants, and carotenoids that protect us against harmful chemicals in the body and from developing lethal diseases such as cancer.
Another misconception that inclines people more towards supplements is the thought that supplements are more effective in delivering the right amount of nutrients as compared to a balanced diet. Nowadays, there are a number of pharmaceutical companies who are cashing in on this misconception. The supplement targeted advertisements from such companies influence our thinking with the misconception that we need extra nutrients through supplements in order to be healthy or function better. We are made to think that taking extra supplements will brighten our skin, improve our cognitive function, make bones and muscles stronger and make us perfect when it comes to bodily health. However, supplements are only required in case of deficiencies or if someone has a problem with absorbing vitamins. If you are suffering from no such impairment or deficiencies, go for nutrient-rich foods as your first preference for obtaining all the essential vitamins and minerals such as salmon, spinach, beans, citrus fruits, dairy, and green leafy vegetables.
Research suggests that nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, obtained from a healthy and balanced diet may lower the risks of certain diseases especially infections, which require strong immunity. While on the other hand, supplements may not be much effective in this regard.
According to a study published in 2019 in Annals of Internal Medicine, supplements are not enough to keep a person well nourished. It stated that supplemental nutrients do not promote health as effectively as a nutrient-rich diet. “For the general population, there is no need to take dietary supplements,” says Dr Fang Fang Zhang, who is the co-author of the study and also an associate professor of epidemiology. “More and more evidence suggests no benefits, so we should go with what the dietary recommendations suggest to achieve adequate nutrition from food, rather than relying on supplements.”
Although supplements can help fill in the gaps in case of a nutrient deficit, one must always try to overcome the nutrient deficit through a healthy diet because most of these problems arise as a result of unhealthy dietary habits. 
Nutrient supplements should not be substitutes of meals, which are crucial to meeting the needs of the body. It is important to consult a doctor before deciding to take any supplements. If you are suffering from severe nutrient deficit, a doctor can help you maintain a balance between a nutritious diet and supplements.
Some supplements are found to have active ingredients that can elicit strong biological effects when combined with certain medications or other supplements. For instance, combining two or more supplements, mixing supplements with medicines, or taking a higher than normal dose of a supplement, especially vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron. 
Who Should Be Taking Nutrient Supplements?
You should try to get your vitamins from food first by including different sorts of vegetables, fruits, dairy, beans, nuts, and proteins in your plate. Pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as those with severe nutrient deficiency are required to include a supplement in their diet along with certain vitamin-rich foods. There are some people who are using anticoagulants (blood thinners) for specific health conditions. In this regard, it is advised to take vitamin K supplements with caution as they can reduce the efficacy of blood thinning medications.
In addition to this, those individuals who refrain from certain food items, such as lactose intolerant individuals who avoid milk products and dairy, must obtain the missing nutrients from dietary supplements as well as other food items. In order to know more about your body and its dietary requirements, it is important to see a registered dietitian who can assess your situation in a better way and guide you regarding the vitamins and minerals that your diet might be lacking in. Remember, it is essential to consult a doctor before you include a supplement in your daily routine.
Vitamin Rich Foods
Here are some of the foods that you can include in your diet in order to attain maximum nourishment through natural means.
•    Vitamin B1: soy milk, watermelon
•    Vitamin B2: milk, yoghurt, cheese, whole grains and cereals
•    Vitamin B3: meat, poultry, fish, mushrooms, potatoes
•    Vitamin B5: chicken, whole grains, broccoli, avocados
•    Vitamin B6: poultry, legumes, bananas
•    Vitamin B7: whole grains, eggs, soybeans, fish
•    Vitamin B9: fortified grains, cereals, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, legumes, orange juice
•    Vitamin B12: meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, soymilk
•    Vitamin A: organ meats, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, cantaloupe
•    Vitamin D: fortified milk, cereals, fatty fish
•    Vitamin C: guava, oranges, kiwi, red pepper, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, strawberries
•    Vitamin E: vegetables oils, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts
•    Vitamin K: cabbage, eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli

The aim should be to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but in case there are problems with health that have to be addressed by taking supplements, always consult your doctor to advise you with the right mix. HH


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