Nutrition is a fascinating field that constantly evolves as new research emerges. One hot topic of debate is the comparison between food-based nutrients and synthetic nutrients. Are food-based nutrients truly superior, or do synthetic nutrients offer comparable benefits? In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of food-based nutrients, exploring concepts such as bioavailability, absorption, food synergy, and the role of fibre. We also discuss the role supplementation plays within healthcare and why we love food-based supplements. Get ready for a nutrient showdown!
Bioavailability and Absorption
Bioavailability refers to the extent to which a nutrient is absorbed and utilised by the body. When it comes to bioavailability, studies have shown that food-based nutrients have an edge over synthetic nutrients. Food-based supplements contain vitamins and minerals that are naturally bound to other nutrients and compounds, making them more bioavailable than synthetic vitamins. For instance, one study found that the bioavailability of calcium from dairy products was higher than that from calcium supplements. Similarly, another study revealed that iron absorption from animal-based foods was more efficient compared to iron supplements. Synthetic vitamins are often isolated compounds that are not as easily recognised by the body and can be excreted without being fully utilised. Nutrients from food however, are easily recognized, absorbed and utilised - we have the concept of food synergy to thank for that!
One key advantage of food-based nutrients lies in their ability to work synergistically. Food is a complex mix of various nutrients, perfectly designed by nature to interact and enhance each other's effects. Take the example of vitamin C and iron, where multiple studies have demonstrated that the presence of vitamin C increased the absorption of nonheme iron from plant-based foods. Also, Vitamin C is often more effective when consumed with flavonoids, which are naturally occurring compounds found in fruits and vegetables. This synergy is not easily replicated by synthetic supplements, and that’s because food really does have the whole package.
The Whole Package
Whole foods offer a wide array of nutrients, not just isolated vitamins or minerals. Aiding in this process of nutrient absorption from food is the presence of cofactors, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and fibre. Consuming whole foods may provide additional health benefits beyond the vitamins and minerals they contain. For example, whole food such as fruits and vegetables contain fibre, which enhances nutrient absorption by slowing down digestion, allowing more time for nutrients to be absorbed, improved hunger cues and better glucose control. Additionally, fibre acts as a prebiotic, promoting a healthy gut microbiome which further aids nutrient absorption. Wholefoods provide a more balanced source of nutrients, as they contain a variety of vitamins and minerals in specific ratios. This can help prevent nutrient imbalances and deficiencies, whereas synthetic vitamins may provide high doses of certain nutrients, but may disrupt the balance of other nutrients in the body.
Some Food For Thought…
Synthetic nutrients also have a significant place in health care. They are considered bio-identical and can have great benefit when striving to meet and monitor a researched therapeutic dose of an isolated nutrient to target a specific health concern. If this is the case for you, a valuable question to ask yourself is “I may be supplementing this vitamin, but how could I be getting this in my diet too?”. Luckily for us here in Australia, supplementation is a heavily monitored industry, which means we generally only have access to high-quality supplements requiring prescription - but we still need to be aware as there are many types available.
One example is folic acid versus methyl folate, folinic acid, 5 MTHF, or just, folate. Folic acid is vastly different to the latter, and cannot be metabolised in a large portion of the population which can lead to an array of issues. This topic is a big one but within the discord, we see a nourishing middleground: food-based supplements.
Foraged For You is a food-based supplement that contains 100% wholefoods free from preservatives, synthetics, additives and flavours that most supplements contain. This is because we are passionate about nourishing our bodies using what nature has given us to do so. We believe where possible, nutrition should come from its original source - food! But we also acknowledge that as society has developed, our soils have become depleted of nutrients and minerals, greatly impacting the nutrient density of our foods and bodies. Having a food-based supplement to fill the gaps is a wonderful, bioavailable, safe, balanced, middle-ground.
When it comes to the nutrient showdown, food-based nutrients take the crown. Their superior bioavailability, ability to work synergistically, and inclusion of fibre make them the preferred choice for maintaining optimal nutrition. One thing to acknowledge is that real food nutrients have been tested for thousands of years, and isolated synthetic nutrients are very new and always under investigation with new information coming to life after trialling it on our population. Using folic acid as the same example, after around 40 years of encouraging supplementation of folic acid, we now know that other forms (such as methyl folate) are much safer. Synthetic nutrient supplements may be necessary in certain situations, but they cannot fully replicate the benefits of wholefoods. So, let's savour the wonders of nature's bounty and focus on consuming a balanced diet filled with a variety of wholefoods, and possibly filling the gaps with organic food-based supplements (like Foraged For You!). After all, Mother Nature knows best when it comes to nourishing our bodies.