Plates not Pills - this blog will tell you why

Recently there has been more and more talk about eating our medicine instead of relying on pills (or believing in the hype) for an additional intake of vitamins and minerals to improve overall health. I agree that we should not be spending money on over the counter supplements as a first response to wanting to be healthy especially if you have access to a variety of real food options to boost your immune system.

Supplements are designed to supplement what you can not get in your diet and there are cases (ex. folic acid for pregnant women, B-vitamins for vegans, etc.) when a single vitamin or mineral supplement may be needed. Although I don't feel that athletes need supplements like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to boost performance there are some supplements (ex. BCAAs, protein powders) that may assist in proper functioning of the body during times of extreme intentional training stress.

I love the concept of plates not pills because it emphasizes the opportunity for us to obtain a wide amount of vitamins and minerals from the food that we can put on our plate. However, this is often easier said than done because in our society there's a large majority who heavily rely on quick fixes and often do not make the time for balanced meals and real food eating.

And of course, when it comes to research, this is tough to make any one conclusion from any one study. Often, major companies are sponsoring the research or promoting deceptive claims, so of course, those companies want research to show their products are helpful. Also, there are so many variables that can affect research that it's almost impossible to make a statement that is 100% backed by science/research. Therefore, rather than focusing  all our energy on what we shouldn't be doing, we should consider what may improve our health based on common lifestyle habits of the masses that appear to live a better quality of life.

If you are interested in research, there's a really cool study called the Adventist Health Studies (AHS) which "is a series of long-term medical research projects of Loma Linda University with the intent to measure the link between lifestyle, diet, disease and mortality of Seventh-day Adventists.
Due in part to their unique dietary habits, Seventh-day Adventists have a lower risk than other Americans of certain diseases. This provides a special opportunity to answer scientific questions about how diet and other health habits affect the risk of suffering from many chronic diseases."

When I read scientific articles or relate research to real-world settings, I really find value in looking how a large population or group (whether it's in our nation or in another country) is living life when it comes to being "healthy." Certainly, we have to consider economics, health care, stress, etc. in comparing or contrasting healthy living practices but when it comes to the AHS, there are five simple health behaviors promoted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than 100 years which have been shown to increase life span up to 10 years.
They include the following:
-Not smoking
-Eating a plant based diet
-Eating nuts several times per week
-Regular exercise
-Maintaining a normal body life

So to clear up any confusion as to how easy it cane be to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals with real food instead of relying on these popular vitamin and mineral supplements (unless medically needed), here are a few ways to start:
(NOTE: some foods like vitamin K rich foods and grapefruits may interact with medications so always read the fine print. Also, many herbal supplements/teas can interact with medications).

All values obtained from USDA.

-Vitamin C: = 75- 90 mg


       1 large orange (184g) = 98mg vitamin C (all fruits and veggies are great for the immune system)

-Vitamin E: 15 mg

                   50g sunflower seeds = 18 mg vitamin E (nuts and seeds pack a great vitamin E punch)

-Folate (B9): 400 mcg (600 during pregnancy, 500 during lactation)

            1 cup pinto beans = 294 mcg folate (also found in many veggies and other beans/lentils as well as many processed foods like breads, cereals and grains. This has been a benefit in the processed food industry for there have been less neural tube defects in children since there has been more fortication in food. Be mindful that gluten-free foods are often not fortified as well, same with organic foods - check and compare labels, especially on cereals if using for fortification of vitamins and minerals)

-Selenium: 55 micrograms

1 brazil nut = 90 micrograms (many animal proteins will easily meet your selenium needs, as little as 5-6 ounces daily)
-Calcium: ~1000-1200 mg

8 ounce yogurt = 415 mg calcium
1.5 ounce cheese = 307 mg calcium
1 cup firm tofu = 500 mg calcium
1 cup milk = 300 mg calcium
1 cup chopped raw kale = 100 calcium
(it's recommend to obtain all of your calcium needs from foods due research linking calicum supplements with increased risk of cardiovascular events and kidney stones. When it comes to calcium, especially for males, more is not better. It's recommend to consume no more than 3 servings dairy a day which also meets 100% calcium).
B vitamins:
B1 = 1.1-1.2 mg
B2 = 1.1-1.3 mg
B3 (niacin) = 14-16 mg
B5 = 5 mg
B6 = 1.2-1.7 mg
B12 = 2.4 micrograms


Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods, but fortified breakfast cereals are a readily available source of vitamin B12 (source)
RDI is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and gender. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals.
As you can see, in a varied, balanced diet you can obtain almost all of your vitamin and mineral needs and if you emphasize real food, you will also increase the chance of meeting your metabolic needs for increased performance gains with your training and racing.
The problem I find is that our society loves to disect food. If this were the case for every food, we would have nothing to eat because every food can potentially become "bad" if you eat too much of it.
Even if you weigh the pros and cons of almost any food (which nutrition gurus promoting fad diets love to do - primarily address all the cons with certain "bad" foods), the pros of consuming a varied real food diet typically outweigh any cons. The focus is on balance and that's the hardest concept to accept when you are learning how to have a healthy relationship with food.
This includes dairy, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, etc. which may have many heart-healthy benefits and are consumed by those who appear to have a reduced amount of disease and illness in life and increased quality of life when you look at quality, consistent research studies.
Happy eating!