Originally Published on Well + Good
4 Misconceptions You Probably Have About Supplements That an RD Says Aren’t Backed by Science
Well+Good caught up with Lourdes Castro, MS, RD, a registered dietitian. She delves into common myths regarding supplements that aren’t backed by science, plus how to reap the most benefits if you do take them.
2. There’s no difference between getting nutrients from supplements vs. whole foods
Although supplements may be a useful way to meet some nutrition needs, Castro notes that research shows they’re not as powerful as whole foods in many cases. “While it may be tempting to rely on supplements to meet your nutritional needs, there’s growing evidence that getting nutrients from whole foods is better for your health. This is because the benefits of nutrients may not come from them alone, but from their interactions with other compounds found in food,” Castro says.
According to Castro, the interaction between compounds in foods that boost their nutritional benefits is referred to as the “entourage effect.” “This theory suggests that the synergy between nutrients and other beneficial compounds helps unlock receptors responsible for increasing nutrient potency,” she says. Castro likens this to synergies between nutrients, like how vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium or combining turmeric and black pepper makes it 2,000 times more anti-inflammatory. That said, she notes there are likely many more nutrient combos we’ve yet to learn about or have yet to be investigated.
Research has also shown the benefits of the entourage effect. “Studies have found that people who eat seafood—like my favorite, Secret Island Salmon—one to four times a week are less likely to die from heart disease compared to those who take omega-3 supplements,” Castro says. Meanwhile, she notes that foods rich in beta-carotene and other antioxidants like vitamins C and E have been shown to protect against certain types of cancer. In contrast, beta-carotene supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers in heavy smokers and drinkers.
“Overall, it’s clear that the entourage effect plays an important role in the health benefits of nutrients and that consuming whole foods is likely a better choice than relying solely on supplements,” Castro says.