Certainly, eating healthy foods is the best foundation for good nutrition. But experts say that for a variety of reasons it’s almost impossible to get enough key nutrients from diet alone. A handful of large studies reveal that marginal nutrient deficiencies exist in about half the U.S. population—and are as high as 80 percent for certain nutrients in certain age groups, says Michael Murray, ND, director of product science and innovation for Natural Factors. Even the relatively conservative new Dietary Guidelines for Americans identify potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, D and E as “shortfall nutrients” for many people. The guidelines suggest supplementing with vitamin D, especially during colder seasons or if you use sunscreen, and consuming 250 mg daily of the omega-3s EPA and DHA—found in fatty fish, a food most Americans eat in woefully inadequate amounts.
Beyond general dietary guidelines, some people—those who follow special diets or have specific health concerns or goals, for instance—also can benefit from targeted supplements that help address conditions and fill important nutrient gaps. In addition, daily exposure to environmental toxins can negatively impact nutrient levels by making our body’s detoxification system work harder, says Marita Schauch, ND, women’s health educator for Natural Factors and coauthor of The Adrenal Stress Connection (Mind, 2015). Supplementing with nutrients to support our natural defense systems can provide a shield for the average person, says Anurag Pande, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs at supplement ingredient supplier Sabinsa.
Finally, many fruits and vegetables we eat today are actually lower in vitamins and minerals than those our grandparents ate. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition that compared USDA nutritional data on 43 vegetables and fruits in 1950 and 1999 found that the foods showed declines in protein, calcium, potassium, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. The primary reason: Today’s foods are grown in soil depleted by chemical-intensive agricultural practices that contribute to soil pollution and erosion, or the loss of nutrient-rich topsoil. Crops grown in poor-quality soil are not able to uptake as many phytonutrients, researchers believe.