Nutritional Supplements: Do You Really Need Them?

Getting older is hard.  Once you cross the threshold into your 30s, things ache, break, and malfunction more often.  Millions of people have turned to the $37 billion supplement industry for help.  Multivitamins, Omega-3 pills, and probiotics are just a few of the products filling America’s kitchen cabinets.  But do these supplements really work?  Are we victims of the placebo effect or is there true value sitting on the shelves in the health aisle?

A boost for your diet

Healthy Foods
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Ideally, we should get all our nutrients and vitamins from the foods we eat.  “They [real foods] are accompanied by many nonessential but beneficial nutrients, such as hundreds of carotenoids, flavonoids, minerals, and antioxidants that aren’t in most supplements,” says Dr. Clifford Lo from Harvard’s School of Public Health.

But this is assuming our foods haven’t been altered.  Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have been created to withstand the effects of pesticides.  However, tinkering with our food has led to some deficiencies.  For example, golden rice has been engineered to boost our intake of beta-carotene, which contains Vitamin A.  But it also comes loaded with an excessive amount of pigments and allergens.  The more GMOs we consume, the less likely we are to get all the necessary nutrients we need.

Supplements can help ensure we get everything we’re missing, regardless of our food sources.

Your path to your best body

Bodybuilding guy
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If you follow any of Instagram’s most popular fitness accounts, you’ll often see notes about supplementation.  Some of the most followed athletes are sponsored by supplement companies.  Or they post photos with palms full of pills.  One would think “healthy” people wouldn’t need so many nutritional aids.  However, if you want to achieve a superior level of fitness, supplements can give you the extra edge.

For serious athletes, they’re a must.  “Supplement use is a crucial aspect for fat loss, muscle building, and performance,” writes Bodybuilding.com’s David Robson.  He goes on to name BCAAs, whey protein, L-Glutamine, and Creatine as some of the most beneficial products on the market.  It’s practically impossible to get ripped without a few extra pills in your diet plan.

But be cautious

vitamins supplements
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Consider your personal needs, and even consult your doctor, before deciding to take any supplements.  Also, beware that the supplement industry is very lightly regulated.  Most of what you see on store shelves isn’t FDA-approved.  Exercise caution and scrutiny about everything before you hit the checkout counter.

The final word?  Supplements can be beneficial, but they’re not required.  Conduct your due diligence, iron out your goals, and decide what’s best for you.