Nutrients From Supplements VS Food

in Lifestyle, Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals

What Are Nutrients And How Do We Get Them? 

When we talk about nutrients, we mean substances like vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and others that are essential for life. They support normal growth, reproduction, and healing.

We can’t make our own nutrients, so we have to consume them. Until recently in human history, we’ve obtained all the nutrients we need from food. That creates the question: is supplementation really necessary in today’s world? And if so, what has changed? Getting nutrients from supplements versus food and other questions is what we’re exploring in this article.

Can We Get All The Nutrients We Need From Food?

A bowl of fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and prosciutto; foods containing healthy nutrients.Humans, like all animals, were perfectly evolved to seek, eat, digest, and absorb everything that they need to survive and thrive from the food available in the environment. Unfortunately, over the past few generations, there have been major changes both to human health and the food that is available to us. These are some of the major theories about why nutrient deficiencies are becoming so common:

  1. Farming practices have reduced the quality of food that is available to us due to reduced soil quality, GMO foods, and more. 
  2. Government subsidies mean that less healthy food is cheaper than healthy food in America causing a cultural shift in diet towards nutrient void foods and convenient processed foods rather than traditional diets based on whole foods.  
  3. Digestive concerns have skyrocketed. When the digestive tract is compromised, the absorption of nutrients is compromised
  4. Climate change has caused increased carbohydrates (and decreased other nutrients) in plant-based foods. 
  5. Modern life contains all manner of stressors that our ancestors didn’t have to contend with. These stressors increase the nutrient demands of our bodies.

What Role Do Nutrient-Dense Superfoods And Herbal Medicines Play?

One potential strategy to fight nutrient deficiency is to choose nutrient-dense superfoods and herbs to bolster our nutritional intake while avoiding nutrient poor foods.

This is a reasonable maintenance strategy for some people (assuming digestion is optimal). It takes some work, especially in the beginning, and apps like MyFitnessPal and Cronometer can help with tracking all the major nutrients. These aren’t affiliate links; I just find these apps helpful for myself and my patients.

When Is Supplementation Necessary? 

Sometimes nutrient dense foods aren’t enough. Supplementation might be necessary in the following cases:

  1. Nutrient deficiencies can be difficult to correct through diet alone, and often require supplementation.
  2. During times of stress and sickness, it’s difficult to get enough nutrients because of increased physical demands and decreased time and energy to focus on food.
  3. Nutrients can be used as medicine, but this type of medicine requires higher doses than you find in food.
  4. When digestion isn’t optimal, supplementation can help keep nutrient status up.

How To Choose A High Quality Supplement

Supplementation is helpful for correcting nutrient deficiencies, supporting the body through stress or illness, treating certain conditions, and for getting optimal (rather than sufficient) levels of nutrients for maximum health and vitality.  When choosing a supplement, keep the considerations below in mind.

Form of nutrient in the supplement

Some forms of vitamins and minerals are more absorbable and better tolerated than others. 

Dose of the nutrient in the supplement

Dosing is really important for proper therapeutic effect of natural medicines including nutrients. Fish oils are the worst offenders for improper dosing! In general, you want at least a gram of omega 3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA) to get a good therapeutic effect. I’ve seen low quality fish oils that will say a capsule contains 1 g of fish oil, but 100 mg or less of EPA+DHA. If you’re taking one of these supplements, you’re only getting 10% of an effective dose, no results, and probably fishy burps. 

Formulation of the supplement

Some nutrients need to be taken with others in order to work optimally. Supplements should be formulated by someone with deep and broad expertise in natural health. 


The form of the nutrient in the supplement affects bioavailability (how available the nutrient is to your body), as well as the way the supplement is made. Low quality supplements are classic for not fully breaking down in the digestive tract, which means that the pill (and all the nutrients it contains) goes right out with your bowel movements! Liquids, powders, capsules, and easily broken down tablets are the way to go. 

Fillers & allergens

To make dosing make sense, supplements are mixed with fillers so that they fit nicely into pills and/or taste palatable (if they are liquids or powders). It’s just as important that the fillers that you’re taking are high quality and aren’t going to cause you side effects. Allergens like gluten and dairy are often hiding in supplement fillers.

Quality of supplement

Choosing a quality supplement that has been thoughtfully designed, ethically made, and thoroughly tested, which does not contain heavy metals, molds, or contaminants, is very important. 


The modern world is different from the one that humans evolved to live in. It’s now difficult to get all the nutrients that we need from food. To get what we really need to thrive, we can supplement a healthy diet with nutrient-packed superfoods and nutritional supplements. It’s important to know how to choose a high quality supplement to avoid wasting money on products that don’t help and can potentially cause harm.



Vanishing Nutrients – Scientific American Blog Network
Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? – Scientific American
Association of Higher Consumption of Foods Derived From Subsidized Commodities With Adverse Cardiometabolic Risk Among US Adults | Cardiology | JAMA Internal Medicine | JAMA Network
Digestive Disease Continues to Rise Among Americans – GI Alliance
Worldwide Prevalence and Burden of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Results of Rome Foundation Global Study – Gastroenterology
Increasing incidence and prevalence of the inflammatory bowel diseases with time, based on systematic review
Malabsorption Syndromes – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf
The Effects of Psychological and Environmental Stress on Micronutrient Concentrations in the Body: A Review of the Evidence
Stress and Health | The Nutrition Source
Supplemental Forms | Linus Pauling Institute
Bioavailability of Micronutrients From Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruits


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