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Natural vs supplements: Let’s settle the debate once and for all

Published on:1 September 2021, 09:30am IST
There’s a whole lot of debate around what’s better: natural food or supplements. The answer lies right here in this piece. Find out now!
Dharini Krishnan
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supplements
What’s your pick: natural or supplements? Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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The pandemic has led to creating and building more awareness on the food that each of us consume. Most of us would like to take charge of our health by avoiding chemical-based food and opting for food that is naturally available with the right nutrients. Many of us forget that the pills that we consume might only treat the symptoms and give instant relief to the pain, but will never be able to get to the root cause. Hence, it’s important to understand the difference between natural food vs supplement food, and what impact it holds on each of our health and well-being.

Natural products are products from plants, which can be fruits or vegetables. They score over supplements in a way that they contain a host of good nutrients along with vitamin C, iron or zinc that one is looking to get. Taking the example of amla, it has naturally-present vitamin C and in large amounts up to 600 mg in 100 grams of the fruit.

vitamin supplements
Consuming vitamins and minerals will improve overall health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
How can they help?

Vitamin C in amla stays stable even after boiling for 80 minutes. This indicates that amla dehydrated as powder is a rich source of vitamin C. The phytonutrients in amla helps in many ways such as improving digestion and enhancing liver health. It helps to control raised blood sugar levels in the early stages, and along with iron, also improves the hemoglobin levels. The same amount when taken as a supplement provides only vitamin C in the doses prescribed and does not give the other benefits. Whole foods contain a lot more micronutrients than the body needs. They are complex substances, and also contain phytonutrients and antioxidants, which help in reducing tissue damage. The natural fibre present in whole foods is a great add-on to reduce constipation and hence reduce cancer related to the large intestine and rectum. It also helps in prevention of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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Here’s settling the debate on whether you should go natural or add supplements to your diet. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
A little more about supplements

Supplements are those products created either naturally or synthetically to fill the gaps, which are produced in the diets of people. They are vitamins or minerals or amino acids or specific types of proteins or probiotics. The advantages of supplements are that they are easy to take, as they come in capsule, tablet or liquid forms. They are meant for people who do not eat healthy and are not willing to make a behavioural change to make their diet healthy.

In the case of senior citizens, taking large quantities is a challenge; even procuring and preparing a variety of dishes is difficult. Here, supplements such as multi vitamins or minerals can help them get their required dietary quantities for the day. It is always recommended to have a healthy balanced diet along with the supplements to enhance the absorbability of the vitamin and mineral under concern. Supplements support a healthy diet.

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Supplements may help but you still need a well-balanced diet. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

People believe that they can have dietary supplements over the counter. This is not advisable as they may have better absorption, due to the processing that has been done. Hence, the quantity to be taken is very important. For example, a scoop of protein supplements can give 20 plus grams of protein. If a person is already meeting the recommended daily allowance, then taking concentrated sources of protein can create harm.

Taking professional help and then going for the prescribed amount is the way forward. In some diseases like end stage kidney disease, it is important as too much protein can harm the kidneys further. People tend to start supplements and replace the medicines prescribed for diseases with these supplements. This can have very harmful effects.

A supplement cannot replace a diet. Those who are not able to digest their food or eat required quantities of the whole foods; supplements can help them bridge the gap. Both natural foods and supplements have specific roles to play. Taking professional help before starting a supplement is the best way forward.

Dharini Krishnan Dharini Krishnan

Dharini Krishnan is a consultant dietician in Chennai.