10 Health Lessons Learned

By Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D., "What We’ve Learned," July/August 2012

Find out how nutrition science has evolved in the past decade. Here's what we know now—and didn’t then.

"Such a well sourced article Karen! It's very interesting to see how the common-knowledge assumptions change over time, thanks for the read! "

7. How we get our nutrients matters
Even though more than half of all U.S. adults pop at least one dietary supplement a day, recent research reveals pills can’t match the disease-preventing power of food. “In their natural form, nutrients in food—like vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals—are present in specific, balanced concentrations and work together in a highly synergistic way,” says Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D., author of Eating Free (HCI Books, 2012). Consider avocados: they’re rich in heart-healthy fats as well as vitamin E, a nutrient that requires fat for absorption. While you could get vitamin E from a pill, you can’t absorb it without the fat that nature conveniently packaged in the avocado.

What’s more, some supplements taken in excess can be harmful. In the mid-1990s, a small body of research suggested that people whose diets were rich in vitamin E were less likely to develop heart disease. But a 2005 Journal of the American Medical Association study found that people who had vascular disease or diabetes and took 400 IU of supplemental vitamin E daily were 21 percent more likely to be hospitalized for heart failure. Similarly, studies show that smokers who take supplemental beta carotene are more likely to develop and die from lung cancer even though people who eat lots of beta-carotene-containing foods (carrots, watermelon) have a lower risk of cancer. The evidence is so strong that the IOM advises against beta-carotene supplements.

Next: 8. Dietary cholesterol isn’t so evil »

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