Supplements vs Food – Which Is Better For You?

Man holding a protein shaker

Introduction: What Is A Nutritional Supplement?

Nutritional supplements are any product that is not a food that provides nutrients to the body. They can be in pill, powder, or liquid form.

There are many benefits of taking a dietary supplement. Some people take them to help with weight loss and others take them to make sure they are getting enough vitamins and minerals alongside whole foods.

A lot of people continually ask which is best when it comes to supplements and a regular diet. The answer is pretty straightforward… A regular, healthy and balanced diet will always be better in general, but not everyone is able to consume the nutrients you need each day from whole foods.

There’s a lot more to this topic than a straightforward answer. Let’s dive in a little further to understand the differences between the two.

Food Only Diet

A healthy diet is essential for the body to function properly. Too much processed food long term can lead to a number of health issues and medical conditions, therefore you should avoid consuming too much saturated fats and salt.

A healthy diet is one that consists of a variety of foods, including vegetables, meats, and carbohydrates. It also includes heart-healthy foods such as fruits and whole grains. A healthy diet can help with digestion and muscle growth.

It is often mistaken that fatty acids such as saturated and unsaturated fats are bad, when in fact your body needs a good balance of the two. But too much saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and increase the chances of heart disease.

If you are able to consume enough food throughout the day, you will never need to look at taking supplements. Balancing your food sources is more than sufficient to cover your nutritional needs. For adults, the recommended daily intake is:

  • Energy – 8,700 kilojoules
  • Protein – 50g
  • Fat – 70g
  • Saturated Fat – 24g
  • Carbohydrates – 310g
  • Sugars – 90g
  • Sodium (salt) – 2.3g
  • Dietary Fibre – 30g
Healthy food in a bowl on a wooden board

Supplement Only Diet

Even though the food supplement industry has evolved with better quality ingredients over the past decade, you should never cut out food in replacement for only taking supplements.

Food sources are a much better way of maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle as our bodies rely on good-quality nutrients from food.

Healthy eating is often misled to be expensive, when in fact it’s much better value than consuming processed food or supplement replacements in the form of shakes or nutrient bars for example.

Health and wellness should be the primary objective for many adults and refining your nutrient intake is a key factor in achieving your goals and overall wellbeing.

What If I Struggle To Consume Enough Food?

Millions of people often struggle to consume the right amount of nutrients from food and this is where the dietary supplements industry comes into play.

Dietary supplements may be taken alongside your regular food sources to up your levels of Vitamins C, Amino Acids, Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Omega 3 and Vitamin B12 for example.

The top 3 most consumed dietary supplements are multivitamins, vitamin D and C.

  • Multivitamins – A complete A-Z of required vitamins and minerals
  • Vitamin D – Required to keep your bones, teeth and muscles healthy
  • Vitamin C – A multitude of benefits such as healthy skin, blood vessels and a healthy immune system

Multivitamins are often seen as a quick solution for people who have a poor diet looking to get their recommended daily intake of nutrients. Some people may benefit from taking multivitamins but you should always consult your doctor before doing so.

Vitamin D food sources such as oily fish, red meats, egg yolks and fortified foods such as fat spreads and certain cereals are a great way of getting your daily intake levels consistent. Alternatively, a good quality vitamin d supplement is a good way of maintaining the recommended daily intake.

Vitamin C is the holy grail of vitamins and if you were to choose one that you should focus on, this would be it. A good diet with plenty of citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, kiwi and strawberries is the best way to consume the recommended daily intake.

Alternatively, if you struggle to eat fruit and veg then you may wish to look at vitamin supplements in a tablet or powder form which are easily swallowed with water.

However, if you can adjust your diet to consume the correct nutrients from food you should do so. Always consult your doctor or dietitian when making big changes to your diet or lifestyle.

Protein Powders & Amino Acids

A very popular supplement to promote muscle growth and recovery is whey protein. When consumed in moderation alongside a healthy diet, the benefits are noticeable in assisted recovery and muscle tissue repair.

Weight training and sports activity put stress on the muscles which need fuel to repair the fibres. Protein is made up of amino acids or BCAA (branched chain amino acids) as they’re referred to, which are the building blocks for muscle repair.

Whey Protein can be consumed quickly in the form of a powder mixed with water or milk which is easily digested. The convenience of a shake after the gym or sports activity is a popular choice to replenish the muscles quickly.

Amino Acids can also be consumed in a similar way. The main difference between taking a whey protein shake vs bcaa drinks is that whey needs to be digested and absorbed like food and is generally better for building muscle.

BCAA’s are absorbed directly into the muscle tissue and help reduce fatigue, soreness and pain. BCAA’s are often consumed during a workout and whey protein is consumed afterwards.

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The Difference Between A Traditional Diet and Supplements

Supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet. Supplements should be used to supplement your diet and help you reach your goals.

Traditional diets are all about food. Mineral supplements are just the addition of vitamins such as C, D, B and other substances that will help you reach your health and wellness goals.

They are manufactured and sold in forms such as tablets and powders. Not all supplements on the market are the same so you should make sure the ingredients are from trusted sources and they provide nutritional benefits when consumed.

Many supplements on the market have no benefit to your healthy eating goals as they fail to release nutrients into the body whilst being digested in a timely manner.

Food is broken down over time where the vitamins and minerals can be absorbed into the body and bloodstream. This is why a lot of dietary supplement manufacturers advise their products to be taken with a meal to assist absorption.

What Types of Supplements are There?

  • Vitamins – Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins
  • Minerals – Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, Chloride and Sulfur
  • Probiotics – Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Saccharomyces, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Escherichia, and Bacillus
  • Botanicals or Herbs – Herbs, Spices, Chamomile and Lavender
  • Botanical Compounds – Alkaloids, Phenylpropanoids, Polyketides, and Terpenoids
  • Amino Acids – Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine
Vitamins and herbs on a worktop

How Can You Tell Which Ones Are Safe & Effective to Use?

The supplements that are safe and effective to use are those that have undergone rigorous testing and research.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency regulates the production and sale of every dietary supplement. The MHRA website has a searchable database of all the supplements that have been tested and approved by them.

You can find out more by visiting the MHRA website Here.

Alternatively, using established brands and suppliers such as MyProtein is a good source for all your dietary supplements and nutritional products.

Can Vegetarians And Vegans Use Nutritional Supplements?

People who are vegetarians are generally ok to use supplements as very few products contain meat. Whey protein for example is made from cow’s milk extracted as a liquid when making cheese.

For vegans due to the process of using animal products, it’s recommended to find herbal alternatives in the form of grains and seeds for protein consumption.

MyProtein has a good range of vegan alternatives which can be found Here.


A well-planned diet of quality and natural ingredients is key to a healthy lifestyle regardless of your age. But for those who struggle to achieve dietary consistency, dietary supplements may help you increase your recommended intake of nutrients and vitamins.

Dietary supplements should never replace a well-balanced diet of meats, fish, fruit and vegetables and therefore should only be used as a supporting nutrient to a good diet. By cutting out food completely will have harmful effects resulting in unwanted medical conditions such as muscle loss and heart problems.

A good balance of natural food paired with supplements such as protein shakes or amino acids in between meals is proven to have positive results in the fitness industry for recovery.

This way you’ll likely see improvements in your well-being and overall health as you are fuelling your body with the correct nutrients it needs based on the recommended daily intake guides to match your lifestyle.

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