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To Supplement or Not to Supplement?
Date:3/29/2010

Health experts urge getting nutrients from diet rather than pills, whenever possible,,

MONDAY, March 29 (HealthDay News) -- You know you should eat better -- but that daily multivitamin pill, calcium supplements and possibly others compensate, right?

Perhaps.

But nutrition experts say that getting crucial nutrients from food, when possible, is better than popping pills.

The American Dietetic Association, in fact, has updated its guidelines on nutrient supplementation and now stresses that eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods is the best way to get needed nutrients and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

The update comes at a time when nutrient supplementation continues to be a growing trend in the United States. Americans spent more than $23 billion on dietary supplements in 2007, according to the association's report, and one-third of adults use a multivitamin and mineral supplement regularly. Others use a variety of supplements, which prompts worry among health experts about the potential negative effects of megadoses.

So what makes it better to get nutrients from foods rather than pills?

"Foods are special," said Andrea P. Boyar, a co-author of the position paper and an associate professor of dietetic foods and nutrition at Lehman College of the City University of New York.

Foods are complex, and the nutrients within them interact in different and more beneficial ways than they would in supplements, she said. Also, many foods contain healthy dietary fiber, which isn't part of a multivitamin supplement, she said.

"Food is still the ideal," Boyar said, stressing that she means "whole foods" -- those that are not processed or are as minimally processed as possible.

Yet Boyar and other nutrition experts concede that supplements can often fill dietary gaps. That's particularly true, she said, for vitamin D and calcium, especially as people age. She
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