Whole-Food and Synthetic Nutritional Supplements: Is one better than the other?
A fresh, whole-foods diet is the optimal way to obtain nutrients. However, environmental conditions and farming practices have depleted the soil of key nutrients we would typically obtain from food, making it impossible to get everything we need from food alone. Nutritional supplements provide a way to support the body’s needs. There are two broad categories of supplements to choose from – whole food-based and synthetic (lab-created). Is one better than the other?
There aren’t many studies comparing whole-food supplements to synthetic varieties. Whole-food supplement manufacturers claim their products are superior, but there is no specific criteria to define “whole food” in the supplement market. Many different practices can be used to claim a supplement is whole-food. Some brands do add concentrated fruits and vegetables to their product. Others simply add yeast and use a fermentation process. Does this make a supplement more available to the body for absorption? Not necessarily.
From the research available, we know that the bioavailability of a nutrient depends on many factors including:
a person’s state of health
the proper production of stomach acid necessary for vitamin absorption
whether or not the supplement is digested in the stomach; pills that pass through the stomach are less bioavailable
the supplement manufacturing process
The only way to measure bioavailability for comparison purposes is to do blood tests and there simply is not enough valid and reliable research that makes such comparisons.
Of course, better digestibility and assimilation by the body are important factors for anyone considering nutritional supplements. The bottom line is that either type of supplement may be better than the other depending on the reason it’s being taken (for general health or a specific medical need) along with the factors mentioned above. In some cases a truly food-based supplement could be the better choice; but not always. The best way to ascertain your need for supplements is to consult with a natural medicine physician who understands the manufacturing practices for nutritional supplements, as well the physiology of how different types of nutrients work in the body.
We all are familiar with the cozy feeling of being curled up with a good book – be it a thrilling novel or a vicarious adventure through ancient history told with just enough spice to make you forget you’re reading about true events. What you may not know is that reading is more than an escape; it’s also good for your health.
help prevent cognitive decline and possibly lengthen lifespan
Reading can even be a form of therapy known as bibliotherapy, which can help facilitate transitions in a person’s life and promote well-being. In clinical settings, mental health practitioners have used bibliotherapy to bring about insight for people struggling with emotional-behavioral problems. For people going through significant life changes, bibliotherapy can promote emotional healing.
You can reap the benefits of reading for health simply by choosing a book that truly interests you. It does not have to be a particular genre, length, or meet any other requirements. Be aware that print and digital forms of reading have different benefits and challenges, so choose a form that works best for your situation.
For our health and eco-conscious readers who want to realize the benefits of reading, we offer these titles on sustainable food systems for your reading pleasure:
Nourished Planet: Sustainability in the Global Food System by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition
Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It by Anna Lappe
Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable, and Secure Food Systems by Philip Ackerman-Leist
Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler
We often think of green peas as a last-minute addition to stews, rice dishes, and warm salads. So, you may be surprised to hear that the green pea is one of the most sustainable food crops offering many health benefits. This member of the legume family contains essential vitamins and antioxidants, including vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate. It is also rich in fiber, particularly the varieties that have edible pea pods, such as snow pea, sugar snap pea, and garden peas.
The fiber in peas supports digestive health by adding bulk to the stool and promoting regular bowel movements. The tiny pea is also a good source of iron, which is vital to the oxygen-carrying red blood cells. The antioxidant vitamins in peas help support immunity and protect the body’s cells from free radical damage.
As far as the environment is concerned, peas are good for Mother Earth. They are grouped with other vegetables known as “nitrogen fixers.” This means they take inert gases from the environment and convert them to useful ammonium, which nourishes the soil. In the right quantities relative to garden or crop size, peas, along with lentils and peanuts, can significantly reduce the need for fossil fuel fertilizers.
While we always advocate for organic, fresh produce, don’t overlook frozen peas; they retain their texture and nutrient content better than canned peas and can still be bought organic even if frozen. Overall, for adding color, mildly sweet flavor, and high quality nutrients to any meal, you can’t go wrong with green peas.
Hyperbaric Medicine is the fascinating use of barometric pressure to deliver increased oxygen dissolved in plasma to the body. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a form of treatment in which a patient breathes 100% oxygen at higher than normal atmospheric pressure (greater than 1 atmosphere absolute). This therapy is given in the same chamber that has been used primarily to treat decompression sickness in deep sea divers. In the sixties, HBOT went out of practice because of its use without adequate scientific validation. Over the last two decades, animal studies, clinical trials and well-validated clinical experience has shown the utility of HBOT for a variety of medical indications. Although there is still some debate among the experts (some consider HBOT controversial), there is renewed interest in Hyperbaric Medicine in many nations.
How HBOT Works
The basic premise for HBOT is anchored to the role of oxygen in the body and the controlled pressurization of the environment in which the oxygen is delivered. In HBOT, a patient is breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. The air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. The bloodstream carries this oxygen throughout the body. By delivering oxygen under these conditions, the body more efficiently and effectively can fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
Conditions treated with HBOT include invasive fungal infections, invasive candida infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, and wounds that won’t heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury. The parameters for HBOT are highly individualized and usually part of an integrative approach, incorporating other therapies, customized to each patient’s needs. Your holistic health provider may be able to assist you in finding qualified practitioners in your area and specific to your needs.
A Sustainable Food System: It’s Everyone’s Job and It’s Easier than You Think
Across the globe, health and environmentally-conscious individuals and groups are advocating for a sustainable food system; this includes farming practices, seed to harvest to distribution practices, and waste management. Every action we take – and every inaction – affects the food we eat; our choices impact taste, appearance, variety available, and nutrient quality and has an impact on our health and the sustainability of the planet. Each of us can make a difference, as there are many “pro-sustainability choices” and most are easier than you might think.
Why Sustainable Choices Matter: Planetary Health and Human Health
The relationship between the environment and human health is complex and intricately linked to nine key “planetary boundaries” that scientists use to measure changes in the planet’s air, land, and water systems. When these boundaries are breached, there are rapid, irreversible environmental threats that impact our health and food supply and the very conditions under which humanity can thrive on Earth.
To date, four of the nine planetary boundaries have been crossed: climate change, biosphere integrity, land-system change, and the global nitrogen cycle. The evidence for these breaches is seen in a number of scientific observations:
loss of biodiversity
soil, air and water pollution
polar ice-cap melting
rising sea levels and ocean acidification
species endangerment and alterations in habitats
inadequate development of water and land resources to meet food and energy needs
These changes have unalterable effects on planetary and human health, including increased:
disease carried by wildlife (e.g., Lyme, West Nile, Ebola)
novel viruses transmitted by wildlife
food and waterborne disease (e.g., bacterial illness)
malnutrition in both industrialized and non-industrialized countries
cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness, diabetes, and other chronic diseases
Farms & Feed, Gardens & Groceries
A major contributor to environmental rifts and the degradation of health is our reliance on factory farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs). In the U.S., most meat, poultry, egg and dairy come from CAFOs. Whether in the U.S. or around the globe, acquiring the land needed for such farming often means deforestation, a practice associated with habitat destruction, changes in ecosystems and biodiversity, and climate change.
Mounting evidence from the past two decades shows deforestation is also associated with rising rates of infectious disease in animals and humans. When wildlife lose their natural habitat to deforestation, they are forced to migrate into a new ecosystem where they are biologically ill-equipped to fend off bacteria or viruses that exist in the new ecosystem. When animals and humans intermingle within ecosystems that have been typically foreign to one another, this sets up a pathway for pathogen transmission from wildlife to humans.
CAFO farmed livestock are fed hormones and antibiotics to prevent disease and promote faster growth. It has been well established that antibiotics in animal feed is a primary factor in human antibiotic resistance, a serious public health problem. Farms that promote “grass-fed” beef are more humane for animals and the meat produced is better for humans, but we must keep in mind that aspects of all farming practices can damage delicate ecosystems. We have to feed billions of people, many of whom consume too much of any kind of meat. As part of the solution, we can each commit to consuming less meat and more vegetables and make good, sustainable choices.
Simple Sustainable Choices You can Make
Grow Your Food. Growing food saves money and reduces the environmental cost of factory farming. Start a garden or even an organic container garden. Remember: if you use commercial, chemically-laden soil, fertilizer or feed, you are not only damaging your personal ecosystem, you are also diminishing the quality of nutrients and vitality of the food you are growing. Use organic soil, native plants, natural fertilizer and pest control, and compost. Practice conservation-friendly watering to help your garden grow.
Be a Conscious Consumer. When you can’t grow your own foods, buy organic, in-season foods from a local farm market or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture or crop-share) in your area.
Veg-out More Often. Even just one day a week, replace meat-based recipes with savory vegetarian options.
Expiration Date Knowledge. “Sell-by” and “use-by” dates are manufacturer suggestions for peak quality. The dates are not federally regulated to indicate safety, except on certain baby foods. Not sure if you should keep a food or toss it? Refer to a shelf life guide.
Net-Zero Your Fridge. Before you grocery shop to restock, try to make use of all perishable food: Leftover meat and vegetables can be turned into a casserole, stew or broth. Fruit can be frozen. Learn what food can be canned or preserved for later use. Your biggest impact will come from what you do with your groceries (or garden harvest) so that as little food as possible goes to waste, ending-up in an environmentally destructive landfill.
Be Freezer Friendly. Freeze leftovers (ideally in reusable containers) if you won’t have the chance to eat them before they go bad. Refer to this chart for freezer-life of common foods.
These choices aren’t complicated; they only require that you pay attention to what you choose to buy or grow and how you go about doing it. Start with one or two of these approaches and try others over time. Your health and your planet will thank you.
Dr. Lachman uses a naturopathic method for healing. A Naturopathic doctor in Bucks County, Dr. Lachman is devoted to restoring your health naturally. Her medical training occurred at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Phoenix, AZ.
Upon obtaining a Combined Honours Degree in Biology and French at Dalhousie University, she was admitted into the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine (SCNM) in Phoenix, AZ. It was through this rigorous 4 year program that Dr. Douglas garnered the knowledge, experience and confidence to address an array of medical conditions