Should You Be Supplementing
Did you know that supplements are a $32 billion-a-year industry? This means a lot of us are taking supplements; actually an estimated 70% of US adults. For some of us it might be because we know our diets could be better so we're trying to make up the difference. And this is for good reason when you consider that the average American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Research finds our plates lacking in a number of essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and D. For others it might be because we're trying to complement our already healthy diets with an extra health boost.
Getting our nutrients straight from a pill sounds easy, but supplements don't necessarily deliver on the promise of better health. Some can even be dangerous, especially when taken in larger-than-recommended amounts. And yet there are times when adding supplements could be the right call.
Why Are We Deficient
Let's first take a look at why our diet may be lacking in essential nutrients.
- Most people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables.
- Most people eat processed foods, which lack essential nutrients.
- The soil in which are food is grown is depleted, thus lacking essential minerals.
- Certain medications interfere with vitamin absorption.
- Other lifestyle factors that affect the amount of nutrients our body needs: chronic stress, poor sleep, less time outdoors, more toxic environment, etc.
Ideally we would get all of our nutrition from real food. And this will always be my first recommendation. Consistently eating a diverse variety of whole food can provide us with the nutrients we need. This is assuming we're eating mostly organic food grown in nutrient-rich soil. Foods, unlike supplements, also contain many co-factors and enzymes required to absorb those nutrients. Nutrients work synergistically and when you start separating out individual nutrients into pills, our bodies don't always absorb them like we think they will.
What should our diet look like to insure that we're getting an adequate supply of nutrients? This is what I recommend and what is at the heart of a Rustic Diet:
- Colorful intake of plants every day (fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes) - with a goal of 5+ servings of veggies and 2-3 servings of fruit
- High quality protein at every meal rotating between animal and plant-based proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts/seeds)
- Healthy fat at every meal (grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, olive)
- Minimally processed foods with limited amounts of added sugar.
I'm hesitant to focus in on any one "super-food". All foods have health benefits and I believe that only by getting a diverse variety of foods in your diet can you insure that you're taking advantage of the full array of nutritional benefits.
The other issue we have to be mindful of is the quality of the supplements we're buying. Unfortunately supplements are not regulated in the United States. This means we cannot be guaranteed by the label alone that the supplement actually contains what it claims to contain. Some have even been found to contain harmful ingredients not listed on the label while others didn't even contain the active compounds it claimed to contain. According to one study by the federal government, dietary supplements send an average of 23,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms every year.
So where does this lead us? There may still be times when a supplement could be helpful but how do we make sure we take a high quality safe product? And furthermore how do we make sure it's not going to interact with any medications we're also taking? I spend quite a bit of time researching supplements as part of my work; their efficacy, safety, and dosing guidelines. I rely on some of the Resources listed below to help with my research. I also only work with professional-grade supplements that have been tested by a third party for purity and safety.
Food Based Supplements
Although, as I mentioned above, my first goal is to move all my clients towards an optimal Rustic Diet there may still be times when supplements are warranted. When they are, I always recommend a food-based supplement whenever possible. This means that the supplement is derived from real food rather than being synthetically engineered. I believe that this is a better choice as our bodies will be better adapted to assimilate and utilize these nutrients.
Here are a list of some of the supplements I more commonly recommend and why.
I do not suggest that everyone take a multivitamin. I personally do not take a multivitamin. But there are situations when a multi may be helpful. If your diet is very poor and/or you're dealing with an illness or disease that is interfering with your ability to maintain an optimal diet, then a multivitamin could be quite helpful.
Since so many people are dealing with digestive issues this ends up being a very common recommendation I give to clients. Our modern-day diet and lifestyle does not support a healthy microbiome. There are many medications, including antibiotics, that alter the microbiome. And on top of all this most people do not regularly consume fermented foods or enough prebiotic fiber to keep their microbiome healthy and diverse.
For those of you that love cold-water fatty fish and eat it weekly, then this supplement is not for you. But for everyone else a fish oil supplement could be a very productive way at increasing your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. There are not many foods rich in Omega-3s other than fatty fish and some plants (flax, chia, hemp, walnut). Omega-3s are very important in keeping our inflammation in check as well as supporting our brain, heart, eyes, skin, joints, and immune system. This is definitely a nutrient you don't want to be deficient in.
Vitamin D is another one that many people are low in and it too is involved in many bodily processes (immunity, bone health, brain health, heart health, and mood) It is mostly produced in our body from sunlight. There are only a few foods that naturally contain vitamin D (mushrooms, eggs, fatty fish) and because most of us are spending way too much time indoors and when we are outside we're slathered in sunscreen, we are not producing adequate levels of D.
This is a category of herbs and nutrients that are important in building resilience in our body. For those of us under chronic stress, adaptogens can be very helpful in keeping our immune system and adrenal health strong. They can help modulate our response to stress and help to keep us more balanced.
All other supplements I recommend based on individual need. For example, someone with osteoporosis may need added calcium and vitamin K or someone dealing with prostate concerns may add in saw palmetto. We also have to consider if any medications are getting in the way of nutrient absorption, which may require extra supplementation.
Take Home Message
When it comes to supplements there is never a one-size-fits-all approach. I do believe that they can play a role in improving health but they must be approached responsibly and personalized for the individual. The following steps apply to everyone:
Step 1 = Eat a diverse, colorful, whole foods diet
Step 2 = Buy the best quality supplements you can afford
Step 3 = Only take supplements you know you need
If you are currently taking supplements or thinking you'd like to start I strongly recommend you work with a provider to make sure you're taking what you need (nothing more, nothing less) and that you're buying the best quality possible. As part of my consultation with clients we always discuss supplements and if they are appropriate to the overall plan. Also as a benefit of being one of my clients you will have access to professional grade supplements at a discounted price. Drop me a note if you'd like to set-up a consultation.