Dietary Supplements: Why a Nutritional Last Resort is No Cure for a Lousy Diet

Green SmoothieThere are four little words that many a dietitian will cringe upon hearing:

“But Dr. Oz says…”

Although he has long championed healthy lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, Dr. Oz also has a TV show that is on every single day. And in each episode, he has to find something new and exciting to talk about. He’s not going to get many viewers if he just comes on and says, “yep, fruits and vegetables are still good for you.” That wouldn’t make for a very exciting television series. So in order to entice viewers, Dr. Oz often shares the latest “miracle” weight loss cures.

This is problematic for two reasons: Not only are these “miracle pills” often total garbage, but more importantly, they distract viewers from the big picture of wellness by getting them hung up on random, unpronounceable plant compounds. No amount of raspberry ketones or green coffee bean extract is going to make you healthy if you have a sedentary lifestyle and your diet mainly consists of processed junk food.

This point is hilariously captured in a clip that my brother Jack sent me from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” (If you have 16 minutes, I highly recommend that you check it out below.) The episode investigates Dr. Oz, and also brings light to another important health issue: the deregulation of the supplement industry.

Contrary to popular belief, dietary supplements DO NOT need FDA approval before they are marketed, nor do they even have to proven safe or effective. In fact, researchers tested 44 different dietary supplements in the US and Canada, and found that a whopping one-third contained NO TRACE whatsoever of the plant advertised on the bottle.

Marion Nestle writes at length about health claims and the supplement industry in her book, Food Politics, where she also reminds readers that “taking single nutrients in moderately high doses may not be a good idea.” Why? “Because many different nutrients are involved in every aspect of human physiology, high doses of just one nutrient can create imbalances that adversely affect the absorption or metabolism of other nutrients.” Nestle often reminds readers that if you eat a balanced diet with lots of plant foods and minimal processed junk food, then you really don’t need to worry about any of this. Similarly, David Katz sums this point up brilliantly: “If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”

– Kelly

P.S. Can’t get enough John Oliver? Check out this 6 minute clip on health claims on food products, or this 11 minute clip on sugar.