Do you worry about getting enough iron, omega-3’s, calcium, or other specific nutrient?
Or is your focus on getting enough vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, whole grains and low fat dairy options?
Not surprisingly, the media, advertising and research results have influenced us to have greater concern and focus on a single nutrient versus the whole food that contains that nutrient. Is there a problem with focusing on the nutrient (or being nutrient-centric) vs. focusing on whole foods (or being whole food-centric)? Based on new research, yes, it appears this is a concern.
A study published just this month evaluated the perceptions of over one-hundred adults. Each group received a description of a man and his behaviors and were asked to rate his risk for disease. The descriptions were exactly the same except for the description of the diet. One group received a description that listed the type of nutrients consumed, while the other group received a list of the foods consumed. The information was equivalent. The way the information was presented was the only difference for the nutrients amounts matched up with the foods where those nutrients found. However, the interesting part is those who had the nutrient list for their diet, ranked the person as having a lower disease risk. And those who received a corresponding list of whole foods containing the same nutrients, ranked the man with a higher risk for disease.
So what does this mean? As a society, we seem to think that isolated nutrient focus is more important than focusing on whole food consumption. The reality is that there is a greater health benefit and absorption rate by consuming our nutrients in whole foods (with a few exceptions). For example, if you consume raspberries (vs. taking a vitamin C supplement) you will not only be getting vitamin C, but fiber (raspberries are an excellent source of fiber per serving! ), potassium, and some calcium, iron, B-6 and magnesium to name a few. We still do not fully understand all nutrient interactions, but we do know that consuming whole foods usually results in better absorption rate for the body as well as utilization within the body. These interactions within the body are important for reducing risk for disease.
From a safety standpoint, there has been no evidence of dangerous levels of nutrients within the body when people are obtaining their nutrients from whole foods. However, when supplements are involved toxic levels may build up in the body and result in negative health issues. For example, we have seen negative health consequences linked to supplementation of Vitamin E, beta carotene and calcium. This is why it is important to speak with your physician and/or registered dietitian regarding whether a supplement of any kind is warranted, necessary or appropriate for you.
For more individualized feedback and help, please contact Kristine Clark Wellness Associates.
JP Schuldt, AR Pearson. Nutrient-centrism and perceived risk of chronic disease. J Health Psychol June 2015 vol. 20 no. 6 899-906.