Supplements may be beneficial, but they can't replace a healthy diet
By: Joanna Robnik, M.D.
It’s about a month into the new year and many of us have made resolutions to live healthier lifestyles and habits in 2012. In order to accomplish this, it may be tempting to grab a vitamin supplement as a way to fix your dietary woes. While supplements can be beneficial, they cannot replace a healthy diet.
To further complicate matters, the dietary supplement shelves can be daunting. There are many choices: supplements for kids, for women, for men, for the elderly. Some supplements make grandiose claims about their benefits. If you find yourself reading a label that seems to good to be true, remember, it probably is.
If you are unsure of which supplement is right for you, ask you physician about his or her recommendations regarding whether you’d benefit from a supplement and which is the best choice for your individual situation.
While not everyone requires a vitamin supplement, something everyone can benefit from is a healthy diet. If you’d like to eat and live healthier in 2012, congratulations. Making the decision to pursue a healthier lifestyle is the first step in becoming a healthier person.
If you have specific health issues or a chronic health condition, consult with your physician before making any major lifestyle or dietary changes.
When making changes toward a healthier diet, there are certain things you can do to increase your likelihood of success. These include:
• Make a plan. You increase the odds in your favor if you plan for changes ahead of time – no hasty or spur of the moment decisions.
• Start small. You don’t have to change your entire diet all at once. Start with one meal of the day, then move to two. Try to add healthy foods to your diet versus taking foods away.
• Create goals and write them down. Make sure you have short term goals (ones you can accomplish in a week or two, or perhaps even a day or two) and long term goals (which may stretch three to six months). Short term goals help you acknowledge small steps and will help you from becoming discouraged by long term goals that may seem far off or hard to attain.
• Track your progress with goals in writing. It gives you a concrete way to see that you are on the right track.
• Accept the fact that you aren’t perfect. On occasion you may slip and go back to old habits. Don’t let that be a reason for you to quit your new plan completely. If you do slip, get back to your new healthier habits as soon as possible.
• Identify barriers to your new goals. Are you confronted by a pizza lunch every Friday at work? Does your office have donuts in the break room? The idea isn’t to eliminate barriers, but to identify them so you are better able to deal with them and stay on track when you do encounter them.
• Enlist a support group. Tell family and friends about your goals. Encourage them to encourage you. They may even want to support you by joining in with your efforts themselves.
Remember a healthier lifestyle is a plan that is life-long. Rapid weight loss is not healthy, nor is it easy to maintain. Gradual change is more often the change that lasts. Healthier eating means:
• Aiming for balance. Try to eat from each food group every day. This includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, milk products, low fat meats and meat alternatives.
• Look for variety. Look at the colors of your food. Try to eat a rainbow. Eating a variety of different foods helps ensure you get all the nutrients you need.
• Practice moderation. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are satisfied. Start with a small portion. If you pile a large amount of food on your plate you will be more likely to eat it. If you have sweet tooth, indulge in a little chocolate; just make sure it is a small piece.
Healthy eating is one of the best steps you can take to pursuing a healthier lifestyle in the new year. A healthy diet can make you feel more energized, it can promote overall wellness and it can prevent and control health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
When it comes to diet, think of vitamin supplements as a safety net. They can’t replace the benefit of whole foods – like vegetables and whole grains – which contain fiber and other nutrients that can’t be adequately delivered through pills.
As you begin your pursuit of a healthy diet, talk to your primary care physician about his or her recommendations. It may be that instead of reaching for a bottle of vitamin supplements, you might want to head for the produce aisle and grab some broccoli instead.
Dr. Robnik is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.