Benefits of Real Food vs Supplements

2 March 2023

Ryan Pinto

My Muscle Chef Advanced Sports Dietitian

With an infinite number of professionals and influencers giving their opinion on the age-old discussion of real food vs supplements, Australians are becoming increasingly confused with who to believe when they try to change their intake for the better.

All too often fad diets, pills and potions gain traction and attention through advertising on social media, pseudo-documentaries and/or unscrupulous celebrities and athletes promoting a diet or product for personal gain. Within this article we’ll delve into which behaviours lead us to opting for the quick fix, and how can we change these to include healthy food-based options which are sustainable for the long term.

We tend to overlook the importance of fostering good habits that involve real food, and subsequently pass on undesirable food behaviours - such as reaching for a nutritional supplement rather than a meal - to our children, partners and families. Nutrition is ideally a continual conversation that should be had around the dining table at home (or even at work!) - but it is one of those important things that we too often allow other people to have for us.

"This food-first approach is not only nutritionally recommended to optimise a person’s intake from a scientific perspective, it is a social tool to promote healthy eating behaviours."

The reason why a food first approach is important is because a healthy, balanced diet is a bit more complicated than just ‘meeting your macros’. We have thousands of bodily processes and reactions occurring every minute, and so it’s important to ensure you are meeting your daily nutrient levels to allow these processes to occur as required.

"Food-based vitamins and minerals are naturally designed to meet our daily nutrient requirements and additionally have a much higher bioavailability compared to supplemental forms such as a multivitamin."

We’ve all heard about the importance of consuming a nutrient-rich diet to ensure these bodily reactions occur, however we often opt for the quick supplemental form of a vitamin which contains amounts which aren’t clinically researched or which aren’t in a form which is bioavailable (easily absorbed by the body).

"Multivitamins usually come in much higher doses than the human body can absorb, leading to most of the money spent literally being flushed down the toilet."

Multivitamins may sound impressive, however they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals which counteract each other due to limited absorption sites within the body.

They also usually come in much higher doses then the human body can absorb (no, more isn’t always better!) leading to most of the money spent literally being flushed down the toilet.

This can also be quite dangerous for people who may consume more than one supplement on a daily basis - as some vitamins take time to be metabolised and broken down. If these vitamins are present in more than 1 supplement, they can build up within the body and reach toxic levels - especially vitamin A, vitamin D, and iron.

As a nutritionist, when advice is given to improve someone’s diet, this is done to not only meet a person’s requirements, but also to correct any nutrient deficiencies which may be underlying and/or diagnosed. This is an important factor that is usually overlooked by general fad diets and trends, and can result in fatigue, changes in mood, lower immunity and unexpected weight gain.

So a nutritionist aims to improve a person’s diet with food-based solutions as it’s a sustainable option which corrects any nutrient deficiencies whilst they eat, leading to a simpler solution.

As important as exercise is to staying fit and healthy, we need to be mindful that key nutrients are lost in exercise and need to be focused on though diet to ensure we can exercise day after day.

If not, common nutrient deficiencies such as anaemia (low Iron levels) can occur if our daily nutrient intake from our diet isn’t replacing key vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc.

These vitamins are generally found in red meat, fish and dark green leafy vegetables, and especially on active days, we need to plan to consume these nutrient-dense foods to recover optimally. Having a variety of foods or food options available to you is key to feeling well after exercise, and additionally recovering more effectively.

Even within elite sports environments, a food-first approach is taken to educate athletes on the importance of consuming foods which are nutrient-dense to ensure they meet their recovery goals.

These are what make the biggest difference, along with sleep and hydration, to ensure athletes remain active, and are able to maintain their strenuous daily exercise routine.

Only once this goal is achieved, may we recommend a supplement, but this is only if food options aren’t a practical solution. This approach emphasises the importance of real food to meet a person’s energy and nutrient needs no matter whether they are a working professional, a retiree or an elite athlete.

"There is a tendency to believe the hype created by promotional material and to fall into the trap of looking for the quick fix - when in reality, these ‘fat loss’ supplements have little to no benefits."

As a dietitian, I find that more often than not, when people try to change their intake to consume a healthy diet, they restrict themselves too much - generally setting themselves up to fail. There is a tendency to believe the hype created by promotional material and fall into the trap of looking for the quick fix - when in reality, these ‘fat loss’ supplements have little to no benefits.

Following the latest most glamorous or popular celebrity trends or crash diets may seem like the right thing to do, however what we must also realise and reflect on is whether this style of eating suits your lifestyle, grocery budget, family life and food preferences.

How to know what the right approach is? The key is to assess whether the new meals and foods within these diets are those which you actually enjoy eating - and which don’t take too long to prepare.

Or you can choose pre-made meals which have the benefit of allowing you to make a sustainable change to your intake which can be maintained over the next 6-12 months, not just the next 1-2 weeks.

This is why we often educate people about changing their long-established food routines and habits and tom look at implementing real food options to help improve their energy levels and leave them feeling healthier.

My Muscle Chefs takes nutrition seriously, and takes the pain out of meal prep by carefully curating nutritious delicious foods in ready made meals.

Related Articles

Weight loss meal plated
11 July 2024

What is Reverse Dieting? A Guide to Sustainable Weight Loss

Read Now
Weight loss meal plated
11 July 2024

How Many Calories Should I Eat to Lose Weight?

Read Now
20 May 2024

The Power of Protein for Overall Wellbeing

Read Now