Should You Be Taking Supplements?

Written by Karen Sherwood

You've probably heard about supplements and the various health benefits they purport to bring about, but it can be difficult to determine whether or not they're right for you, and if so, which ones to take. This post is designed to give you some guidance in the confusing world of supplements.

Should I be taking supplements?

This question is asked at least once a day by a nutrition client. If you had asked me this question 20 years ago, I would have said, "probably," and that’s with the assumption that everyone got a bounty of vitamins and minerals from their diets. Sadly, the concentration of vitamins and minerals in the soil is not the same as as it was in the days of our grandparents.

Regardless of the reasons, we’re just not getting enough of the good stuff. Eating healthy should always come first, but getting some additional health insurance is never a bad idea if it’s in the right form.

What supplements should I be taking? 

There are always exceptions that are dependent on a person’s overall health, allergies and dietary requirements, but even for the healthiest among us, these five are a great place to begin.

1. Whole food-based multivitamin

Let’s face it, your diet will not always be perfect. The purpose of a multivitamin is to fill any nutritional gaps that may be missing in your daily meals. They should not be used as a meal replacement, but more of a healthy bonus to a diet already filled with vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

2. Digestive enzymes

How well are you assimilating your nutrients from food? The answer is that you don’t always know. Lack of digestion is a major cause of nutritional deficiencies, bloating and discomfort after eating. I carry these in my purse to have with my meals, especially when dining out or eating richer foods than expected.

3. Probiotics

Think of your gastrointestinal tract as its own immune system and nervous system. It’s true, and it therefore needs to be ready for any toxic invader that’s thinking about messing around with the gut. These friendly bacteria need to out-number the bad so there’s less intestinal discomfort, nutritional deficiencies, and even depression!

4. CoQ10 

Achy muscles and joints can sometimes mean a deficiency in this enzyme. Coenzyme Q10 is a natural antioxidant made by the body and found in many foods. This is your ATP, or energy production, as well as your cardiovascular health insurance. If you're on a cholesterol-lowering drug, CoQ10 is especially important since these types of drugs may block the production of the enzyme. The standard dosage prescribed is usually about 100mg daily with meals for better absorption.

5. Omega-3 oil

Want to control inflammation? This is how we do it! Most of our diets contain a lot of omega-6 fats (mostly from grains), which are pro-inflammatory. It’s the omega-3s that we need more of, and since the body doesn’t make these important fats, we must get them from our diet, or whole food concentrates such as fish oils or algae supplements.

Are all supplements created equal?

For the love of all that’s holy, it’s important to know where your supplements come from! I actually like the name “whole food complex” rather than supplements. It's best to stay away from drug stores, grocery stores and many of those “jacked up” vitamin stores in the mall that contain high potency, superhuman bottles with mega amounts of (fill in the blank).

It’s safest to order your supplements from a trusted health practitioner, or possibly a health food store. All should be whole food-based, meaning the nutrients must be derived from a whole food source rather than synthetic substances that are made in a laboratory. For example, on a nutrition label, the natural form of Vitamin E is d-alpha tocopheryl, but the synthetic form is dl alpha tocopheryl. So if you see that “dl prefix,” put it back on the shelf. Your body recognizes food, not fake isolates, which not only don’t provide benefits, but can actually be dangerous.

Here are a few more fun examples: Did you know that many synthetic B vitamins are made from coal tar? Mmmmm, nothing like the energy of some coal running through your digestive system. And vitamin C in many vitamins comes from ascorbic acid, right? But ascorbic acid is actually a very small part of the vitamin C complex, and high amounts of it, can actually be harmful.

Cod liver oil is also an amazing addition to your regimen for its essential fats, as are naturally occurring vitamins A and D, but these vitamins shouldn't be added synthetically, and last I checked, cod didn’t have exactly 400 units of vitamin D in its liver. Also, watch out for that fortified milk, as it contains D2. It's best to get this vitamin from whole food sources and sunshine.

So check your labels and go for whole food complexes over supplements whenever possible!!! (yes, even at Whole Foods) Will you pay more for the good stuff? Absolutely! But for me personally, I’d rather pay for some nutrition now than for prescriptions later.

*Note: Always consult your doctor before beginning any supplement regimen.

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