Your cart is empty

Continue shopping now

Whole Foods versus Supplements

Sporty & Rich Wellness - Whole Foods versus Supplements
By: @drmelissacugliari

There is great debate in medicine around the use of supplements. More specifically, whether supplements or whole foods are the better nutrient source. I think about this question for a living and treat patients with this question in mind daily. While a well-rounded diet would ideally be the best way to obtain nutrients, this is not always possible - especially given the demands on our bodies from modern living.

In my opinion, there is no clear cut answer to whether whole foods, synthetic supplements, or whole food supplements are best. Rather, the answer can be determined by analyzing various factors relating to your diet, lifestyle, and health goals. 

What does your diet look like on a day-to-day basis? 

The most nutrient dense foods are plants (i.e. vegetables, herbs, certain fruits), organ meats, eggs, healthy fats (i.e. olives, avocados, or coconuts), fish, and certain shellfish. These foods contain a variety of nutrients that synergistically work together to amplify each other's effects.

How much of these foods are you consuming on a day-to-day basis?

Ideally, you should be consuming at least eight servings a day of a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables (this is equivalent to at least four cups of cooked vegetables), two tablespoons of healthy fats per meal, and a variety of protein sources with at least one serving per meal (i.e. the size of your palm or a cupped hand). If these foods are not available to you, your diet contains processed ingredients, and/or you rarely consume these recommended quantities on a daily basis, supplementation is likely necessary. Perhaps you are eating these foods but your digestion and gut health is less than optimal, ergo your body cannot properly absorb and utilize nutrients. This would also be something to discuss with your healthcare provider to determine your supplementation needs.

What is the quality of your food? 

Food quality is important to consider because this will dictate how nutritionally dense these foods are. Although organic produce is generally smaller in size, many studies have shown that they are more nutrient dense than inorganic produce. The quality of the soil that the food is grown in heavily impacts its nutrient density. Whether your food is fresh, frozen, or processed will also change how nutritious it is. Generally speaking, whole foods (i.e. unprocessed foods) that are locally grown and organic are the best choice. With that being said, this quality of food is not always available and therefore, supplementation may be needed.

How do you eat your meals? 

The way we eat has a direct impact on how well we digest and assimilate nutrients, and how well we excrete what we do not need. Eating on the go, at our workspaces, or when we’re stressed/preoccupied does not encourage optimal digestion. Constant snacking is another form of stress on the digestive system which may impair nutrient absorption. If this is your steady state, supplementation may be helpful. Fasting between meals (i.e. not snacking between each meal) can also be a helpful tool to promote gut health and nutrient absorption.

How are your stress levels?


Stress can come in a variety of forms. A variety of emotional and environmental factors can impact our stress levels, from chemicals, to pollution, loud noises, bright lights and screens, drug and alcohol use, processed foods, medication, and so on. When we’re stressed, our body is in a heightened state that requires the use of nutrients to function. In states of stress, supplementation can be helpful to provide the body with the extra nutrients needed to function optimally. 

What are your specific needs? 

Each person has distinct nutritional needs based on their age, sex, genetic background, health history, current state of health and health goals. For example, the nutritional needs of a child vary drastically from an adult, or between a pregnant woman versus a post-menopausal woman, or between someone with more melanin in their skin versus someone with less. Considering this, it is best to consult with a naturopathic doctor or a functional medicine doctor who is knowledgeable enough to decipher your specific needs based on your unique physiology. 

Where do you live and what is your lifestyle? 

Geographic location and your lifestyle impact nutritional needs. Factors such as your exposure to sunlight, activity levels, and sleep-wake cycle should all be considered. Depending on this, supplementation may be needed.

What are your goals? 

Depending on your health goals, supplementation may or may not be required to help you get there. The goals of someone who is wanting to enhance their general health versus someone who is healing from a chronic disease vary considerably. While the use of supplements may or may not be needed in the former, the latter instance will almost always require supplementation. 

If you and your healthcare provider have determined that supplementation is needed, there are a few important factors to consider. Please see below.

Supplement Quality

The importance of selecting high-quality, professional-grade supplements cannot be understated. The quality between supplement brands varies dramatically. Poor quality supplements can sometimes do more harm than if you weren’t supplementing at all, or they may have no benefit. Most nutrients can be found in a variety of forms which impacts its quality. For example, the antioxidant CoQ10 has two forms, which are ubiquinol and ubiquinone. Ubiquinol is a more absorbable form and unless the supplement bottle openly states this ingredient, it is likely that it contains its less bioavailable (and cheaper) form, ubiquinone. B vitamins are another great example, with certain supplements boasting methylated forms. Individuals with absorption issues or genetic variabilities may have higher requirements for these vitamins (making it harder to obtain enough through diet) and require the supplement to be in its methylated form in order to absorb these nutrients. These are two examples among countless others.

Supplement Dosages

Quality and quantity matters. The majority of supplements do not contain a high enough dose to create changes in the body, or in other words, replete nutrient deficiencies. Consuming liposomal supplements is one way you can enhance absorption. The best way to know if you are consuming the doses you need (through diet and/or supplementation) is to have your blood work done bi-annually, and review it with your naturopathic doctor.

Nutrient Source

Supplements can contain a concentrated dose of whole foods that are high in specific nutrients or they may contain nutrients that are created in a lab. For example, one may consume camu camu powder, a dense food source of vitamin C, or they might choose to consume ascorbic acid powder which is a synthesized form of vitamin C made in a lab. There is no right or wrong answer here and what is best for you is based on your body’s unique needs and your health goals. 

For general health promotion, whole foods supplements can be helpful. A benefit of whole food sources is that the nutrients within the whole foods synergistically work together, meaning the nutrients and phytochemicals found in whole foods amplify one another’s effects. This type of supplementation can improve energy levels and give you a greater sense of wellbeing while helping to prevent disease.  

For specific health needs, you may require a higher dose of certain vitamins that should be supplemented with in a controlled fashion. For example, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of folic acid for pregnant women is 400mcg/day which can sometimes be difficult to consume through diet, or perhaps there may be some uncertainty around how much folic acid is in food or whole foods supplements. Another example would be someone on a particular medication that depletes certain nutrients. For example, oral contraceptive pills deplete B vitamins and supplementation would be favoured over relying on foods and/whole foods supplements in order to bridge this nutritional gap with certainty. 

Remember, while supplements are helpful, you cannot supplement yourself out of a poor diet and lifestyle. With that being said, even if you are eating a pristine diet and have minimal stress, never completely disregard supplementation as your unique system may thrive with it. My recommendation is always a combination of both; with the combination depending on your unique needs.


Image credit: @juliaajay


The Wellness Club

Sporty & Rich Wellness - Why Cold Water and Smoothies are Making you Bloated

Why Cold Water and Smoothies are Making you Bloated

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

    By Dr. Natazia zu Stolberg, L.Ac, DACM In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the stomach is seen as a pot, with the fire under it being our metabolism. This digestive fire is crucial for the efficient breakdown of food, absorption of nutrients and smooth flow of Qi...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - 10 Ways To Calm Anxiety

10 Ways To Calm Anxiety

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @curanaturopathy Anxiety is a complex and multifaceted emotional and physiological response to perceived or anticipated threats, which we commonly refer to as stressors. This response is characterized by various cognitive, emotional, behavioural, and physical symptoms.  It’s no doubt that anxiety serves a true purpose as a natural and adaptive reaction to prepare us to deal with challenges...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - What’s Causing My Skin to Breakout?

What’s Causing My Skin To Breakout?

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @curanaturopathy Your skin health is a reflection of your internal health. If there's any signs of imbalance in the form of active breakouts, pimples, blemishes, so on, this can give us an indication that there's an imbalance internally and most often it's related to our gut health. Factors such as nutrition, hormones, stress, lifestyle choices can also influence your skin....

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - Are Electrolytes Healthy For You?

Are Electrolytes Healthy For You?

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @gooodmoodfoood I am sure you have seen a lot of information on social media and the internet lately about drinking electrolytes. This may be slightly confusing because we have been told for years that sodium is bad for us and is making us dehydrated! In reality, ultra-processed foods high in processed sodium leave us feeling dehydrated and lethargic. When an individual...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - The Importance of Non-Toxic Skincare: Health Risks of Popular Ingredients in Conventional Products

The Importance of Non-Toxic Skincare: Health Risks of Popular Ingredients in Conventional Products

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @inceipek1 In recent years, there has been a growing concern among consumers about the potential health risks associated with the use of conventional skincare products. Many popular ingredients found in these products, such as emulsifiers, parabens, and others, have come under scrutiny for their potential toxicity. Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers are commonly used in skincare...

Read more
SIBO: The Most Commonly Missed Cause of IBS

SIBO: The Most Commonly Missed Cause of IBS

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: Bloating, abdominal discomfort, unusual gas, constipation and/or diarrhoea are all symptoms that western medicine commonly chalks up to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). But IBS is essentially a blanket diagnosis for a group of symptoms, without providing any insight into the cause of the symptoms or curative treatments. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) is a condition of the small intestine. The...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness

Where to Start When Healing Acne

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: Acne is one of the most complex skin concerns to treat. Treatment often involves a lot of trial and error and each case requires an individualized approach to achieve the best result. Patients may opt to treat the skin with pharmaceuticals (oral or topical), conventional skincare products, or with more natural options including supplements, gentle topicals, herbs, acupuncture, light therapy, etc. Regardless...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - Your Comprehensive Guide to SPF

Your Comprehensive Guide to SPF

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @dermahealthnutrition  Relaxing in the warmth of the sun is undoubtedly enjoyable, but are you aware of the potential risks? Protecting your skin from harmful rays is essential to prevent sunburn, reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature ageing. Here's what you need to know:...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - The Importance of the Skin Barrier

The Importance of the Skin Barrier

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @curanaturopathy Our skin barrier plays a crucial role in a healthy glowing complexion, but unfortunately there are many internal and external factors that influence the functionality of our skin barrier.  The skin barrier is the outermost layer of your skin, referred to as the epidermis or status corneum - this layer of tissue is...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Skin Health

Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Skin Health

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By: @dermahealthnutrition  Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health and, according to recent research, may also have a positive effect on skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, and wound healing. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and are called "omega-3" because the first double bond in their chemical structure is at the third...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness

The Connection Between Exercise and Skin Health

Translation missing: Taylor Davis

By @coreflexpilates founder @chrisbardawil Exercise keeps our skin clear and firm, boosts its blood flow, removes toxins, and lowers cortisol levels. All of these factors are beneficial for the skin, but there are some things to be aware of when it comes to exercise and skin health, these are mainly; redness, bacteria, and drying out of the skin.When first looking up this...

Read more
Sporty & Rich Wellness - What is Microcurrent and Does it Work?

What is Microcurrent and Does it Work?

Translation missing: Taylor Davis Microcurrent devices have become a staple in the routines of many skincare professionals and aficionados. These at-home and in-office devices claim to tighten and lift the face while softening fine lines and wrinkles...but do they work?  Microcurrent devices provide treatments that are non-invasive and gentle. They deliver low level electrical currents...

Read more