Can nutritional supplements create bad habits?

August 17, 2011

It is generally accepted that people who take nutritional supplements – vitamins, minerals, fish oils, etc. – are sensible souls who tend to make an effort to look after their health. However, a recent study suggests otherwise. A couple of small experiments carried out by researchers at Southern Taiwan University found that those who took supplements were more likely to make unhealthy diet and exercise choices than those who didn’t. The higher the level of supplementation, the more marked the unhealthy behaviors.

Julie Godfrey

Julie Godfrey

So, is taking a multivitamin suddenly a license to eat poorly and not bother to exercise? Absolutely not. The benefit of the supplement is easily outweighed by the extra strain on the body from poor lifestyle choices. You would then need more nutritional supplements to compensate, and … well, it could get rather expensive without actually keeping you in optimal health. Making the right lifestyle choices in the first place is a lot better for your body and wallet.

Good health habits often slip over time. Test yourself right now: Think about and write down your typical diet and levels of exercise over two to three days. Then, during the next week, write down exactly what you actually ate and the exercise you did. To the surprise of most people, these two lists can be quite different. The justification of many is that the extra helping, cookie, piece of cake or bag of chips was an “exception,” as was the omission to swim, go to the gym or walk the dog. However, exceptions can quickly become a daily habit. Likewise, with supplements, it is easy to fall into the trap of the “Well, I didn’t manage my five fruit and veggie servings, but I took my multivitamin, so I’m covered” mentality. This can be particularly true when it comes to children, especially fussy eaters whose parents dread the daily battle of getting them to eat wholesome foods.

Some people do need supplements. Pregnant and lactating women have huge nutritional needs and can benefit from a little extra help. The elderly, who tend to have small and often restricted diets, may also benefit, as could children, with their high-nutrient demands. Not to forget those who for some reason are avoiding complete food groups in their diets. Even so, supplementation is not meal replacement. These people should still eat the best diet they can and exercise within the limits of their physical ability, then top up with the appropriate supplements.

For the rest of us, a good diet should be enough. The only flaw in my argument is that, in reality, a poor diet with supplements is debatably better than a poor diet without them. If, however, you are looking for optimal health, a nutrient-rich diet of unprocessed grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, proteins naturally low in saturated fats, plus some cold pressed oils, together with carefully selected supplements, if really necessary, is the most responsible, effective and economical combination of all.

Julie Godfrey, B.Sc. (Hons), is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see www.foreverhealthyco.com or email jgodfrey@foreverhealthyco.com

Facebook Comments

You may be interested

Five things I learned while watching the sun set over El Clásico
Soccer
480 views
Soccer
480 views

Five things I learned while watching the sun set over El Clásico

Alejandro Zúñiga - October 22, 2018

TIBÁS — It’s difficult to enjoy a spectacular sunset while the concrete grandstand of a 50-year-old stadium shakes haphazardly under…

The Tico Times Weekly Digest: Oct. 22, 2018
Tico Times Weekly Digest
278 views
Tico Times Weekly Digest
278 views

The Tico Times Weekly Digest: Oct. 22, 2018

Alexander Villegas - October 22, 2018

It's Monday everyone. That means it's time for another dose of The Tico Times Weekly Digest. This week's Digest is…

This week in the Peace Corps: Lessons from indigenous communities in Limón province
Changemakers
660 views
Changemakers
660 views

This week in the Peace Corps: Lessons from indigenous communities in Limón province

Crystal / Regional Peace Corps Leader - October 22, 2018

After four years with Peace Corps Costa Rica, I am reflective about living and working in indigenous communities throughout Limón…