Getting the proper amount of nutrients would be easier if you could just take a pill. However, supplements cannot replace food, and aren't meant to. Nor can they make up for an unhealthy diet, notes Colorado State University. Whole foods provide more types of nutrients than supplements, and provide them in a more balanced way.
Provision of Nutrients
Whole foods provide not just vitamins and minerals, but also energy in the form of protein, fat and carbohydrates. They also provide phytochemicals, which may help to lower your risk for certain diseases. Although you can get some types of nutrients through supplements, it is better to get them through food. The nutrients and other components in whole foods are usually more balanced and may be more biologically active and able to survive digestion, according to a 2009 article by David R. Jacobs, Jr. published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."
Sources of Beneficial Effects
Although foods containing certain vitamins and minerals, such as antioxidants, may help lower your risk for heart disease, cancer or other illnesses, this has not been shown to be true for supplements containing these nutrients alone, according to Colorado State University. Other nutrients in these foods may be responsible for the possible reduction in risk for these diseases, or an interaction between various components of the foods. It is the entire diet and the way the nutrients in the foods you eat are combined, that is likely to be most important, suggests Jacobs.
Safety, Dosages and Interactions
Although it is difficult to eat enough whole foods to get toxic amounts of vitamins and minerals, you can easily take supplements that provide unsafe levels of some nutrients. A number of vitamins and minerals interact with each other, so if you take supplements of one you may decrease absorption of another unless the supplements provide the proper amounts of each nutrient. Some nutrients also interact with certain medications, making them more or less effective.
Best Use of Supplements
Most healthy people can get sufficient vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet. However, some people may need supplements to prevent deficiencies, such as strict vegetarians, women who plan to become pregnant, elderly people and people with certain medical conditions. Take vitamins with less than 200 percent of the recommended daily value and don't pay extra for 'natural' supplements or added enzymes, herbs or amino acids, recommends the Heart Center of the Rockies.