Even if you eat somewhat healthy most of the time and you’re in no way a self-proclaimed junk food junkie, it’s still not easy to reach all of your nutritional needs from food alone. “We are constantly exposed to chemicals and pollution that put stress on our body and can affect how it functions — which also includes how it processes nutrients,” says Jeffrey A. Morrison, M.D., C.N.S., founder of the Morrison Center in New York City. “Secondly, there is research that shows that non-organic farming has attributed to the decrease in vitamins and minerals in the soil — it is not as high as it once was.” Couple those out-of-your-control factors with a hectic lifestyle and poor food choices and you might not be getting the balanced nutrition your body needs to be totally kick-ass.
Now, the above statements by no means warrants a Get Out of Jail Free card to simply, say, reach for some powder vitamin C in place of eating a good, old orange...or take a pile of vitamins daily and still chow down on Chipotle for lunch every day. No, no, no. Experts agree that food is the ultimate source of nutrients and fuel for your body. And, supplements, well, they do just that — supplement your diet.
“Taking vitamins and nutritional supplements are a way to fill in any gaps in your nutrition,” say Keri Gans, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a nutritionist in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. And yes, there is some debate on the benefits (or lack there of), and the arguments for and against vitamins and supplements can get heated like whoa. But there are experts who say, hey, they can’t hurt (if you know what and how much) and others who are full on for them: “The studies that have been done on whether or not the body absorbs supplements haven’t been really conclusive,” says Gans. “When you look at food, you’re never looking at a single nutrient — it’s a mix — so when you look at how the body takes in one nutrient and then compare it to a food source, it’s really not comparable.”
The bottom line: If you want to eat the aforementioned orange (and greens and meat and dairy, etc.), and you can hit your individual nutritional marks with just food, then great. But if you can’t, or your diet requires a little more of this and a little more of that, or you want to take preventative measures for your health down the road, then read this guide to learn how to simplify your supplements and make being healthy a helluva lot less confusing.