A Healthy Balance: Food vs. Supplements

By Katie Baker, ND

I’m taking a multivitamin and a couple of other supplements, so I can eat whatever I want, right? Well, not exactly.

When patients are suffering from an illness that a therapeutic dose of a specific vitamin will help, I always recommend supplementation. However, it’s only part of the general treatment plan that I put together.

When they are looking to lower their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, I suggest starting to build a strong foundation with a healthy diet.

Cod liver oil is great to take to improve depression, skin health, digestion and brain function. And since most mercury is found in flesh, not in liver tissue, there shouldn’t be a concern about mercury levels, especially if you buy a pharmaceutical-grade brand from your doctor rather than a store-bought one. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to eat two to three servings of fish each week.

Not only are you getting all the benefits of omega-3s, protein, vitamins, etc, you’re probably substituting fish for a higher- or more saturated-fat meat, which is, in itself, a great reason to eat more fish. There are handout cards at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Web site (www.montereybayaquarium.org) that show you which species are fished in a more environmentally-friendly way and which have lower levels of mercury in them. Check it out and try some new kinds of fish this weekend!

Fruits and veggies have almost every vitamin and mineral imaginable in them, plus fiber. And they taste way better than Metamucil. If everyone was able to get their recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, we would see dramatic decreases in our nation’s deaths from heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.

There is also one population for whom the debate between food vs. supplementation is very important- smokers. Recent studies have found a higher incidence in lung cancer in smokers who took supplemental beta-carotene, but NOT in smokers who ate fruits and vegetables, who instead showed the expected protective effects.

Calcium-rich foods, like dark, leafy greens, dairy products, and some nuts, are a much better way to get your bones healthy than taking a supplement. Same goes for iron-rich foods like lean meats, shellfish, and foods cooked in cast-iron pans with a little lemon juice.

In the end, we all benefit more from improving our diets naturally than from adding pills and powders to a standard American diet of too many processed simple carbohydrates and fats and not enough lean proteins and complex carbohydrates (like whole grains). See your naturopath doctor about ways you can change what you’re eating to improve your health naturally. It will pay off in the long run both health-wise and financially.

To find a naturopathic doctor in your area with expertise in clinical nutrition, visit our Find A Doctor page.

Dr. Katie Baker is the owner of Stone Turtle Health, a naturopathic family clinic in Seattle, WA (www.stoneturtlehealth.com).