Which Is Better… Vitamins & Minerals From Whole Foods Or Supplements?

The sale of vitamin and mineral supplements is drastically increasing annually. In 2006 Americans spent $7 billion on supplements in hopes of preventing colds, cancer and other diseases.[i] But are supplements enhancing our diet? Or replacing our natural vitamin intake?

Let’s look at both sides of this debate.

First, the argument against them…

Vitamins and minerals derived from whole foods contain enzymes, trace minerals and antioxidants that help ensure proper absorption of the vitamins they contain. Our bodies are designed to absorb them.

By contrast, vitamins and minerals isolated into pills by man-made processes are harder for our bodies to process. Many are incomplete and missing the elements for proper absorption.

This is the case specifically with nutrients that rely on synergy for digestion. For example, calcium needs vitamin D for proper absorption. Many people take isolated calcium supplements. But the calcium can’t be completely absorbed without adequate vitamin D.

It’s also important to remember that your body does not absorb all vitamins in the same way. For example certain vitamins like vitamin C are water soluble, meaning that they dissolve in the fluid of your body and require daily replacement. Vitamins A, D, and E are fat soluble vitamins, so they are absorbed as body fat dissolves which means that daily intake can cause overdose.

In addition, vitamins and minerals are usually processed, heated, and/or have added fillers, in order to make them into pills.

 It's unlikely for you to have too much of one vitamin present in your body by consuming whole foods. On the other hand, it's possible to overdose on supplemental vitamins.

According to Colorado State University Extension, a vitamin D overdose may cause symptoms ranging from nausea to serious cases of mental or physical retardation. Taking too much supplemental vitamin E can lead to fatigue and excessive bleeding. In addition, if you exceed the safe amount of vitamin A (which is over 3x your daily recommended intake) you may be at a greater risk of getting a hip fracture.[ii]

In order to ensure the right dosage when searching for a multivitamin, make sure the multivitamin has 100% the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for most vitamins.  Be careful of supplements that have greater than 200% of the DRI because you are more likely to take more than you need.[iii]

 Now the argument in favor of supplements:

Though supplements are at times used as a quick fix, they are in no way useless in our society. Many people require supplemental vitamins because of restricted diets, poor diets, medical conditions, or deficiencies. In these cases supplemental vitamins can be extremely beneficial.

For example, vegans should know that Vitamins B12 and D, and the essential fatty acids EPA/DHA, are virtually non-existent in the plant kingdom.

The exceptions are as follows. Dulse and nutritional yeast contain B12. Light-zapped mushrooms (exposed to UV light) contain Vitamin D. And certain kinds of algae contain DHA. All this is detailed in our free nutrition guide which you can get at www.veghealth.com/vegan2.php

Packaged foods like cereals and non-dairy milks are often fortified with B12 and D. But if you shun these in favor of whole plant foods, then ironically, you have a greater need for supplemental B12 and D.

The brand “Silk” offers a DHA-fortified soy milk. Unfortunately, it’s not organic. And its DHA comes from algae, so it’s no more “natural” than the standalone algae supplement from www.bestvegandha.com .

If you’re an ovo-lacto vegetarian, know that most pasteurized milk is fortified with Vitamin D. And a few egg manufacturers offer DHA eggs. Sadly, the only DHA eggs we’ve found are not organic.

Although you can get Vitamin D from the sun, that's no longer considered a reliable source for most people. (To get enough, you'd have to live south of Atlanta, Georgia and spend hours in the sun every day with no sunblock. And even then, you could only get enough in the summer months.)

For all of the reasons above, we recommend this multi-vitamin supplement for vegans and vegetarians: www.veganmultivitamin.com . It contains plenty of Vitamin B12 and D, and unlike most supplements, which contain animal-based Vitamin D3, it's 100% vegan.

People suffering with compromised immune systems may have issues absorbing vitamins properly from food sources and need to add supplemental vitamins to their diet. Or people with specific vitamin deficiencies can use vitamin supplements to create balance in their body.

Pregnant women or women that are breastfeeding may also require supplemental vitamins in order to ensure the health of their baby.

Though getting all of our vitamins from food is best, it is not always an option in our society. Understanding what you are lacking in your diet as well as the synergy of vitamins working together is helpful to reaching your optimal health with your food. That’s why we created The Vegan Mastery Program.

One final point. Plants obtain minerals from the soil they grow in. Unfortunately, today’s soil – even when it’s organic – has fewer minerals than soil did 100 years ago.

As a result, today’s fruits and vegetables – even when they’re organic – contain fewer minerals than they originally did.  Taking supplements is one way to compensate for this. Another is to juice vegetables daily. Juicing vegetables enables you to consume more of their vitamins and minerals than you’d get eating them whole.

[i] http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Health/story?id=1749813#.TuKAarJCoWE

[ii] http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09315.html

[iii] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/questions/vitamin-questions/

4 Comment(s)

  1. Plants provide macro/micro/phytonutrients and the phyto being still under discovery as to their amount being claimed in thousands as well as the health benefits which is found in natural state plant sources.

    Adam | Reply

  2. As stated at the end of this article, I think the issue that really needs to be addressed is Agricultural practices and the remineralization of the soil. I know it is possible to remineralize the soil through mineral mixtures that can be combined with live stock feed and returned and available through the soil life. Also through the use of diverse polycultures that include more perennial plants and trees we can accummilate more minerals and nutrients that can be kept in the system.

    Joseph Coats | Reply

  3. I have been informed from various sources but one in particular I will mention is Dr Mercola, that we can get enough Vit D if we get out in the sunshine especially in the middle of the day, at least three times a week, for 20 minutes with no sunblock – just until we turn pink , and exposing at least 40% of our skin.    That was just given as an idea of the time needed and ofcourse I understand he was speaking of a good sunny day. And my understanding is that this is the very best source of vit D.   but now I read that your opinion is that it is very difficult to achieve a good level of Vit D and that supplementation is advised.    I am confused as to the best advice to take.    Would you say the above recommendation is incorrect??   (Mindyou I do live in West Australia so our sun is hot and plentiful.)

    Barbara Vicary | Reply

  4. There is only one way to know for sure: take an annual blood test and see if you have enough Vitamin D. The results of your blood test will give you a definitive answer. Personally, I don’t want to gamble with my health. I would rather be safe than sorry.

    As Dr Klaper explains, there are many variables that affect your ability to get vitamin D from the sun, including cloud cover, sun block you wear, distance from the equator, time of year, etc.

    admin | Reply

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