Take supplements to optimize—not replace—a healthy, balanced diet

I recently received a question from a concerned reader about the effectiveness of taking a nutritional supplement as a replacement for eating real, whole fruits and vegetables. 

It’s an important topic that I would like to clarifySo, today, I thought I’d share my response with you. 

Here was the question: 

Dr. Micozzi has commented on fruit juice relative to the actual fruit and the significance of its matrix. But I would like to ask him about dehydrated fruits (and veggies) that are then ground and sold as an expensive pill. Is the water an important part of the matrix? Does grinding the dehydrated fruit also further destroy that matrix? Is this form still of nutritional value for someone who doesn’t eat fruits and veggies in their fresh mode?  

Here are my thoughts… 

Eating whole fruits and veggies is always best 

First and foremost, as I always report, improving your diet is the No. 1 thing you can do to improve your health and longevity. And dietary supplements should only  “supplement” your healthy, balanced diet. Meaning you shouldn’t ever take them as a replacement for eating fresh, whole fruits and vegetables. 

For one, fruits and vegetables contain dozens of healthy vitamins and phytochemicals, like bioflavonoids, carotenoids, and polyphenols. They also contain important antioxidants, dietary fiber, and minerals—all of which help foster optimal digestive and metabolic health and protect against disease. 

More specifically, these health constituents in whole fruits and vegetables also help: 

  • Balance your immune system 
  • Fight inflammation 
  • Lower blood lipids (fats) 
  • Lower blood pressure 
  • Lower blood sugar 
  • Prevent blood clots 
  • Support a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome (the environment of healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut) 

While it’s true that fruit contains some natural sugar (called fructose), this type of sugar doesn’t cause the same metabolic problems as table sugar. 

That’s because, as this reader mentioned, when you consume the fructose found in whole fruits, you get it as part of the entire “food matrix.” (The food matrix is basically the fibrous connective tissue that holds all of the nutrients together in whole foods.) 

In other words, when you consume fructose as part of the food matrix, it slows down digestion, absorption, and metabolism so the sugar doesn’t flood into (and overwhelm) the blood—as it does with ultra-processed foods or soft drinks (which contain refined sucrose [table sugar] or high-fructose corn syrup).  

Now, when it comes to the production of fruit juice, the food matrix is somewhat broken down. Especially if you buy a brand that removes fiber and pulp. 

So, once again, you’re far better off just eating the whole fruit or making your own freshly squeezed fruit juice. Better yet, throw in some fresh, whole vegetables as well and make a “smoothie” using a blender or a fancy juicer. (Some other tricks for getting whole fruits and veggies into your routine include pickling them [as I discuss in the November 2019 issue of Insiders’ Cures] or freezing them. Both time-tested techniques retrain the produce’s nutrients in the food matrix.) 

Supplements can’t ever entirely replace the real thing 

So, to answer this reader’s question: Those little, dehydrated, once-a-day “fruit and veggie” capsules may seem too good to be true…because they are! After all, the math just doesn’t add up. In fact, it’s arithmetically, physically, and chemically impossible! 

Specifically, there’s just no way supplement manufacturers can concentrate the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of nutrients and phytochemicals found in even just one vegetable or piece of fruit into one tiny, little pill. (The whole foods would have to be nearly 100 percent water for this to be relatively possible—which, clearly, is not the case when it comes to most fruits and vegetables.) 

After all, even high-quality nutritional supplements contain—at most—a targeted combination of six to 12 nutrients and/or phytochemicals. And even then, in order to get the optimal, effective dose of the ingredients, you typically have to take multiple capsules each day. 

You can also think of it this way… 

The old Contadina tomato paste commercials used to brag about getting eight tomatoes into one “little, bitty” can. And yes, the research showed that they did dehydrate (by removing the water) and reduce those eight tomatoes into one can. But remember… 

You have to consume the entire 14-ounce can of paste to get all of the nutrients found in eight tomatoes! That’s more than 400 grams (or 400,000 milligrams [mg])…and most standard-size supplement capsules only contain about 400 mg as a starting dosage! But even then, remember, that 400 mg often comes from just one nutrient or phytochemical. 

That being said, modern farming techniques—such as the use of harmful pesticides and “monocropping”—have depleted the soil to the point where fruits and vegetables just don’t contain as many nutrients as they did 100 years ago. Therefore, the right nutritional supplements still play a major role in helping you achieve optimal health, because they help fill in any deficits you may have due to our “modern” diet. 

In addition, I suggest you try to get as much of your food as possible from local sources. Generally, locally grown foods have a higher nutrient content and contain fewer genetically modified (GM) ingredients than foods bought from a large, commercial farm or supermarket. Plus, by buying local, you’ll be supporting the people who are really invested in keeping the environment healthy right where they live and work.