Nutrition professionals agree that consuming a nutritious diet is the number one way to stay healthy. Maximizing nutrient-dense foods while minimizing (or avoiding) refined and processed foods is the most powerful strategy to:
- prevent chronic disease
- boost energy
- improve cognitive function
- feel and function your best
If you're all about drinking green juice and eating the seasonal rainbow, you may have noticed these big benefits. You’ve got it made, right?
Well, yes and no.
Isn’t food enough?
While it’s true that consistently eating balanced meals of nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats is the foundation of good health, the healthiest eaters may still benefit from supplementation.
Why? Even in people who consistently eat well, micronutrient inadequacies are widespread. It’s become harder to obtain the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals needed to support good health and longevity. You can chalk that up to increasing environmental, physical, and societal challenges.
Food supply inadequacies
One reason you may have gaps in your nutrition is that the nutrient content of crops has declined over the past seventy years, resulting in a drastically different food supply than of previous generations.
Due to modern agricultural methods, soil has become depleted of the necessary elements that produce nutrient-dense crops. Fertilizers and pesticides have also increased drastically in the last fifty years, negatively impacting the nutrient quality of the food supply.
In one notable research study, USDA nutritional data was analyzed for forty-three garden crops, comparing their nutrient content from 1950 to 1999. The researchers determined significant nutrient loss within that period, especially in minerals such as calcium and iron as well as in vitamins B2 and C. Even if fruits and vegetables are prioritized in the diet, they may not provide the nutrition you think they are. And you have little way of knowing if you are being nutritionally cheated by your produce’s less-than-stellar growing environment.
Physical and emotional stress
Chronic stress increases the body’s nutrient requirements, and in today’s busy societies, many people feel the effects of stress more than ever. Stress depletes vitamins and minerals from the body, specifically the B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium.
Long commutes, relationship difficulties, financial struggles, and the balance between family responsibilities and careers are daily stressors that call for optimal nutrition.
While these stressors are typically considered emotional challenges, others are more physical in nature. Inadequate sleep, overtraining, long-term medications, food sensitivities, and chronic illness or infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia can place unsustainable demands on the body.
Toxin exposure is also a physical stressor because it contributes to inflammation, the root cause of many chronic diseases. When you think of toxins, you typically think of contaminated water and foods, and while both are common sources, toxins can also be found everywhere from personal hygiene products to common household furnishings.
Lifestyle and dietary choices
Other times, seemingly benign choices, such as living in the northern hemisphere or following certain diets, can contribute to increased nutrient needs. If you're in a geographical region where sunlight doesn’t contain enough UVB radiation in the winter or spend most of the daylight hours indoors, for example, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Even the healthy decision to follow a plant-based diet may mean needing some extra support. Essential vitamin B12, iron, omega-3 fatty acids are traditionally sourced from animals. Fortified foods can certainly help, though absorption rates could be lower.
Filling your nutritional gaps with supplemental support
While it may feel like the body’s nutrient reserves are being depleted faster than they can be replenished, targeted nutrition supplementation can fill those gaps and help you maintain good health.
To be clear: Supplementation is not a replacement for a healthy diet. It can only offset the gaps from a nutrient-depleted food supply and fortify against chronic emotional and physical stressors, whatever they may be for you.
Davis, D. R., Epp, M. D., & Riordan, H. D. (2004). Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(6), 669–682.
Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2004.10719409
Drake, V. J. (2011). Multivitamin/mineral Supplements. Linus Pauling Institute.
Retrieved from https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/multivitamin-mineral-supplements
Guilliams, T. G. (n.d.). The Role of Stress and the HPA Axis in Chronic Disease Management: Principles and Protocols for Healthcare Professionals.
Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://www.pointinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Excerpt-Stress-Book-PI.pdf
Megan Antoni-Placa is a Certified Nutrition Specialist, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, and nutrition coach at Wellory. Follow Megan on Instagram at @powerlifting.nutritionist where she shares her expertise about the importance of weight-bearing workouts for health and happy hormones.