Supplements vs Whole Foods (Intro)

by Cat,  June 2007; updated May 2019

I don’t intend to suggest that taking supplements can provide the same health benefits as eating healthful meals made from whole foods. Supplements are intended to support our health when there is a dietary lack, or when a health condition causes the body not to assimilate a particular nutrient properly.  They should not be used as drugs to “make something go away,” and they should not be abused.  Overuse of supplements, just as overuse of drugs, can lead to other health problems.

The best supplements are made from whole foods, not those made synthetically. Also, beware of “one-a-day” multi vitamin and/or mineral supplements; they likely lack much of what is listed on the label (they are not large enough). That is, they may contain all the listed ingredients but not at the levels listed; or they may not contain some of the listed ingredients; or the ingredients may be primarily synthetic and ineffective.

It is best to select supplements that need to be taken more than once a day (each dose contains only a portion of the daily requirement), because that makes it more likely your body will absorb what is provided.

NOTE: I am not a doctor and am not qualified to advise you on your specific health situation.  My intent in writing these articles is merely to raise awareness and express opinion.

NOTE:  Consult with your health practitioner before taking any supplements.   Overuse of supplements, just as overuse of drugs, can lead to other health problems, and some supplements can interact negatively with other supplements or drugs.

Studies on Supplementation

For example, several studies have pointed to the risks of supplements for cancer patients (from New York Times February 6, 2008 (1)):

  • A 1995 report showed that cancer cells in a petri dish thrive in the presence of vitamin C; subsequent studies suggest that vitamin C supplementation may lower survival rates.
  • Another study showed patients with cancers of the head and neck who took vitamin E supplements, increased their risk for developing a second cancer.
  • A 2004 study found that antioxidants didn’t prevent gastrointestinal cancers, and may have increased mortality risk.

What these studies do not address, however, is that eating whole foods high in these vitamins and antioxidants strengthen the body’s immune system and help ward off and recovery from disease.  Something essential is lost when nutrients are isolated from the whole food; that something is “synergy.”

Refer to my article on Vitamin Supplements: Intro for more. < links to old iWEb Diet site (Vitamins_intro). Update when move this to Cat’sKitchen.

Whole Foods

Healthful meals are comprised of whole foods as much as possible, especially fresh (or home canned/frozen) organic or biodynamically-grown foods from someone you know.

Here are some other aspects of a whole-food diet:

  • Include living foods (raw and fermented/cultured foods) at least once each day.
  • Avoid prepared and processed foods (commercially canned, bottled, frozen), especially those made with highly processed or artificial ingredients.
  • Know your ingredients; know your cook.  Refer to my articles in the Diet for Health series, for more on this (the link is to Part 1 of this series).

A study recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2007 (2), reports that calcium from quality food sources (raw dairy products, green leafy veggies, etc.) may be more effective than calcium from supplements at preventing osteoporosis and increasing bone density.  This is due in part to higher absorption rate for food-source calcium than from supplements; and part to a change in the estrogen metabolic pathway which favors bone mass.

Another example is probiotics. Much is made recently of using special bacterial cultures to relieve IBS and constipation. Many people take acidophilus supplements (capsules) to improve their digestion and bowel movement. Others are discovering the patented bacterial strains in special yogurt products (like DanActive, Activa, etc.). But by far, the best way to get beneficial bacteria to colonize and thrive in your gut is to drink raw milk and consume lacto-fermented beverages and foods.  The latter includes yogurt, kefir, piima, buttermilk, raw cheeses, sauerkraut, kimchee, etc., especially those you make at home. 

One of the problems with probiotic supplements is that many of them cannot survive the harsh acidic environment of the stomach and of bile secretions; however, the introduction of spore-based probiotics may help with this. Natural sources of probiotics, like kefir, are part of a whole food, and have a much higher chance of survival, because of the protection and synergy provided by the whole food.

Refer to my Whole Foods articles for more on this subject (all have been moved to Cat’s Kitchen; see Foods (About) menu under “Whole Foods”):

Supplements Articles (Overviews)

(I may need to update this section as I move each article)

I’ve divided my Supplements article into separate articles, each specific to a particular health or metabolic problem as follows:

Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplements 

  • Probiotic Supplements discusses:
    • Probiotic foods and probiotic supplements of various types; these all provide beneficial microbes to help heal your gut. 
    • Prebiotics – foods/supplements that feed the beneficial microbes in your gut, helping them to colonize and grow.

Supplements for Insulin Resistance

Supplements for Insulin Resistance (IR) (not yet moved to cat’s kitchen)

This article addresses supplements recommended by others to alleviate the symptoms of insulin resistance and Type-2 diabetes, and/or to enhance glucose metabolism. 

Insulin Resistance is a condition affecting sugar and fat metabolism at the cellular level, but has much farther-reaching consequences, if it goes unchecked; it is the precursor to Type-2 Diabetes (by imparting sugar metabolism), and also:

  • leads to coronary heart disease,
  • increases inflammation and oxidative damage to arterial walls,
  • increases formation of blood clots,
  • upsets sex hormone balance,
  • impairs thyroid function,
  • impairs magnesium and sodium uptake by muscle cells (leading to high blood pressure),
  • impairs calcium uptake by bone cells (leading to osteoporosis). 

Related articles: This problem is discussed in greater length in separate articles: (iWeb, disease section; update links when moved to new blog)

Supplements to Reduce Estrogen Dominance (ED)

Supplements to reduce estrogen dominance  (not yet moved to cat’s kitchen)

This article addresses supplements recommended by others to reverse and/or alleviate the symptoms of estrogen dominance.

Estrogen Dominance is a hormone imbalance, characterized by a relative excess of estrogen, and an absolute deficiency in progesterone. This problem is very common during peri-menopause and menopause. 

Refer to the following articles for more on this subject:

  • Estrogen Dominance & Hormone Balance (Disease section) 
  • Female Hormones (Metabolism section)
  • Peri-Menopause & Menopause (Metabolism section)

Cat’s Supplements

NOTE: I am not a doctor and am not qualified to advise you on your specific health situation.  My intent in writing these articles is merely to raise awareness and express opinion.


  1. New York Times February 6, (link no longer valid)
  2. (title: Effects of dietary calcium compared with calcium supplements on estrogen metabolism and bone mineral density)

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