Generally, nutrients from food sources are more efficiently utilized by the body than isolated substances. For instance, fresh fruit and vegetable juice could be used to provide concentrated amounts of particular nutrients, such as vitamins A and C, to the diet. As another example, eating plenty of leafy green vegetables is a healthy option for those wishing to add calcium to the diet.
Some supplements that were found to have health benefits in observational studies turned out, with more rigorous testing, to be not only ineffective but also risky. Vitamin E, which was initially thought to protect the heart, was later discovered to increase the risk for bleeding strokes. Folic acid and other B vitamins were once believed to prevent heart disease and strokes—until later studies not only didn't confirm that benefit but actually raised concerns that high doses of these nutrients might increase cancer risk.
Healthy eating is not about strict dietary limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and diet advice out there, you’re not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for you, you’ll find another saying exactly the opposite. But by using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create—and stick to—a tasty, varied, and nutritious diet that is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
Learn. Find out as much as you can about any dietary supplement you might take. Talk with your doctor, your pharmacist, or a registered dietitian. A supplement that seemed to help your neighbor might not work for you. If you are reading fact sheets or checking websites, be aware of the source of the information. Could the writer or group profit from the sale of a particular supplement? Read more about choosing reliable health information websites.
Count nutrients, not calories. If you want to improve the quality of your diet, focus on the nutrients in your food instead of calories. “Our energy intake can only depend on our ability to extract that energy from food,” writes blogger and nutritionist Rhiannon Mack. “All calories are not created equal – it is the quality of the calorie that has the most impact on health, not necessarily the quantity,” she explains in a post that appeared in Move Nourish Believe.
Anemia can deplete your energy, leaving you feeling weak, exhausted, and out of breath after even minimal physical activity. Iron deficiency can also impact your mood, causing depression-like symptoms such as irritability and difficulty concentrating. While a simple blood test can tell your doctor if you have an iron deficiency, if you’re feeling tired and cranky all the time, it’s a good idea to examine the amount of iron in your diet.
The use of dietary supplements is widespread. High doses of vitamins are thought to be helpful because they help the body recover from damage and maintain itself long-term. Many vitamins are not harmful in doses even 10 to 100-fold higher than officially recommended. Some governments warn about possible negative side effects, even including increased mortality from "excessive" intake of certain supplements. However, supplements of essential nutrients have been available for more than 80 years. They are known to be safe, and the observed side effects are generally mild with few exceptions.
Animal products, such as meat, fish and poultry are good and important sources of iron. Iron from plant sources are found in peas and beans, spinach and other green leafy vegetables, potatoes, and whole-grain and iron-fortified cereal products. The addition of even relatively small amounts of meat or foods containing vitamin C substantially increases the total amount of iron absorbed from the entire meal.
Parents are advised to become familiar with the literature on essential nutrients, for instance by consulting the Orthomolecular News Service. Children should be given supplements in appropriate doses and in a suitable form. Pills should not be given before children can control the swallowing reflex. Multivitamin powder can be given dissolved in water or juice. Parents should not dose vitamin C so high that a child comes to school or kindergarten with loose bowels or diarrhea. In high doses, niacin may cause unpleasant side effects such as flushing and itching lasting up to several hours.  Although this is not dangerous, it may cause a child to feel unwell and anxious. Starting niacin supplementation with a low dose and gradually increasing it will allow the body to adapt and avoid the niacin flush. A multivitamin supplement containing moderate amounts of niacin is often adequate until a child is 8-10 years old. For younger children, the dosage should start with only a few tens of milligrams, and not increased to more than 50-100 mg/day. Adults may gradually get used to taking 1,000-1,500 mg/d divided into 3 doses per day.
Talk to your doctor before you begin taking a dietary supplement. They can tell you about the benefits and risks of each supplement. Make sure they know about anything you already take. This includes all medicines, prescription and over-the-counter. Some of these can interact with supplements. Read the ingredient list to make sure you know what else is in them. Do not take more than the recommended dosage on the label, unless your doctor approves it. Just because a supplement is advertised as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe.
The VITAL trial showed that neither vitamin D nor fish oil supplementation significantly reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Conversely, current evidence supports the benefits of multiple dietary patterns, especially the Mediterranean diet, in primary prevention of CVD. Health effects of low-carbohydrate diets depend on the food sources of macronutrients.
Use MyPlate (PDF – 281 KB) as a guide to build a healthy diet. Think about filling your plate with foods from the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy — at each meal. Snacks can be a good way to fill in fruits and whole grains you might have missed at meals. Most of us don’t need complicated calorie counting programs or special recipes for healthy eating.
As continual research on the properties of supplements accumulates, databases or fact sheets for various supplements are updated regularly, including the Dietary Supplement Label Database, Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database, and Dietary Supplement Facts Sheets of the United States. In Canada where a license is issued when a supplement product has been proven by the manufacturer and government to be safe, effective and of sufficient quality for its recommended use, an eight-digit Natural Product Number is assigned and recorded in a Licensed Natural Health Products Database. The European Food Safety Authority maintains a compendium of botanical ingredients used in manufacturing of dietary supplements.
Hi there, it’s Lacey! I’m the editor and main writer for A Sweet Pea Chef. I'm a food blogger, health and food coach, professional photographer, and mommy of three. I also run the awesome free Take Back Your Health Community, am the healthy and clean weekly meal planner behind No-Fail Meals, and a little bit in love with Clean Eating. Be sure to check out my free beginner’s guide to eating clean and follow me on YouTube and Instagram to get my latest recipes and healthy eating inspiration. Read More…
A review of clinical trials registered at clinicaltrials.gov, which would include both drugs and supplements, reported that nearly half of completed trials were sponsored wholly or partially by industry. This does not automatically imply bias, but there is evidence that because of selective non-reporting, results in support of a potential drug or supplement ingredient are more likely to be published than results that do not demonstrate a statistically significant benefit. One review reported that fewer than half of the registered clinical trials resulted in publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Protein-containing supplements, either ready-to-drink or as powders to be mixed into water, are marketed as aids to people recovering from illness or injury, those hoping to thwart the sarcopenia of old age, to athletes who believe that strenuous physical activity increases protein requirements, to people hoping to lose weight while minimizing muscle loss, i.e., conducting a protein-sparing modified fast, and to people who want to increase muscle size for performance and appearance. Whey protein is a popular ingredient, but products may also incorporate casein, soy, pea, hemp or rice protein.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. People engaging in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium. Sports drinks contain blends of electrolytes (salts) that the body loses during exertion and sweating, as well as vitamins, minerals, and performance-supporting herbs.