Q. I've seen freekeh in my natural food store; what is it?
--McKenzie Hall, R.D.
Q. Can taking isolated nutrients be as beneficial as getting them in foods?
A. Even if you're eating well, you might be concerned that you're missing out on something in your diet. Perhaps you've been taking a supplement of this or that to, well, supplement your diet. You're not alone. Up to half of Americans take at least one supplement daily. However, all of those supplements really might not improve your health.
Researchers noticed that smokers who ate lots of vitamin E-rich foods seemed to get lung cancer less frequently, so they studied the effects of supplementing diets with vitamin E. But soon it became apparent that the subjects who took the supplements were not being protected at all. This led scientists to realize that vitamins taken in isolation don't behave the same way in the body as vitamins taken in foods.
Foods are combinations of healthful substances -- they may be a particularly good source of one nutrient, but also may contain hundreds of other healthful substances. Some of these compounds work together, so taking one or even two as supplements can never offer the same benefit as eating real food. Sure, it's great to understand how individual nutrients in foods can help us, but it's also important to remember that these components probably work better when they are consumed as a whole food, interacting with each another.
--Sharon Salomon, M.S., R.D.
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit http://www.environmentalnutrition.com.)