Can’t I just get all my nutrients from the foods I eat?
These are questions which I am frequently asked and the truth is, whilst the ultimate goal for good nutrition is to start with a healthy and varied diet, sometimes it’s not always possible to get everything we need from foods alone.
What is a supplement?
Before we get into talking about why we need supplements, I should preface this post by explaining that a supplement is technically a vitamin, mineral, herbal, essential fat, or indeed food-based (think super-food powders) nutrient which is taken in addition to your diet. Therefore, we should always remember that they are not intended to be taken in place of nutritious food, however, as you’ll discover when you read on, there are certain situations for which supplementation is required.
Healthy diet first.
Having a healthy diet with the right nutritional balance is fundamental to overall health. Essentially, what you put into your mouth every day should nourish and fuel your cells and entire body. Ideally, a healthy and varied diet should provide all the nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (specific nutrients contained in plants), essential fats, fibre etc, which your body needs for optimal functioning. The trouble is, however, that due to a variety of reasons, we don’t always make the right choices and our health can suffer as a consequence. Furthermore, (and you’ve probably heard grandma say this before) our food just isn’t what it used to be!
Some common factors affecting nutrient composition in foods:
· Soils depletion of essential nutrients, particularly minerals
· The ubiquitous use of pesticides and herbicides
· Processing and storage
· Cooking methods
· Genetic modification
When supplementation is warranted.
As a practitioner, it’s always my number 1 goal to get people to a place where their symptoms/condition and health can be managed with nutritious food and healthy lifestyle choices, however, the reality is that when a patient comes through the door, they’re already at a point where ‘dis-ease’ has occurred due to a variety of different factors, and as such, supplementation is required to quickly, and most effectively restore balance to the body.
Supplements are required because:
- Due to the factors listed above, sometimes foods alone just simply cannot provide the right amount of vitamins and minerals required to restore a deficiency. For example, iron in pregnancy; calcium in loss of bone mineral density; vitamin B12 for vegans.
- People often struggle to meet their Recommend Daily Intakes (RDI’s) of various nutrients - essential fatty acids and minerals in particular.
- Vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals can be used for therapeutic purposes but the dosage required may not be achievable through diet alone, whereas supplementation can provide therapeutic dosage ranges.
Supplements don’t grow on trees.
One criticism I often hear is that supplements are ‘synthetic’ and people search for ‘natural’ vitamin and mineral tablets and capsules. At the end of the day, the most ‘natural’ source of vitamins and minerals is what you put on your plate. Anything that is tableted or encapsulated will to some level be processed, and contain binders and fillers, encapsulating and stabilising ingredients, because without them, these supplements cannot be manufactured.
However, this is where it becomes incredibly important to use supplements from reputable companies, and this is also where the cost will often be a determining factor of quality.
Not all supplements are created equal.
If you ever get overwhelmed when you enter and pharmacy or supplement store, I don’t blame you! There are so many brands and choices of vitamin supplement tablets, capsules, liquids, powders…. but I bet you get confused because:
- It’s difficult to know who’s advice you can take when you’re just in a retail setting;
- You saw the latest and greatest, celebrity-endorsed supplement being advertised on TV but you’re not sure if it’s right for you;
- You’ve seen all the ads but you still don’t know which brand you can truly trust;
- The labeling is confusing and you can’t decipher why one product is so much more expensive than another when they appear to be exactly the same thing.
The fact is that not all supplements are created equal and there is a huge variation in the quality and efficacy of the supplements you see on the shelf. Whilst price isn’t always the only indicator of quality, I generally do believe you get what you pay for!
What to look for in a good quality supplement.
The following points are some of the questions I ask and factors I take into consideration when I source and recommend supplements to my patients:
· Do they contain therapeutic dosages of ingredients?
· Do they consist of quality ingredients such as the most absorbable forms of minerals?
· Can the manufacturer demonstrate that they have rigorous quality and stability testing?
· Are they clinically trialed ingredients?
· Are they free of heavy metals and pesticide residue?
· Are the binders and fillers food grade and non-harmful?
· Where are they sourced and manufactured?
· What is the company’s environmental footprint?
I do the hard work for you!
Remember there is a time and a place for the right supplementation and whilst that amazing looking celebrity swears by the particular supplement they’re endorsing (and getting paid to do so!), it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing for you!
Seeing a qualified practitioner such as myself ensures you get the right advice so you’re not wasting your money, or worse still, doing yourself more harm than good!
Zsuzsanna is a passionate naturopath with over 15 years' industry experience.
Having come from a corporate background herself, Zsuzsanna understands the demands of the busy, modern world we live in, and is particularly passionate about helping busy people prevent burn out, and achieve their best health possible.
Zsuzsanna also has a special interest in mental health and uses functional pathology testing, together with nutritional and herbal therapies, to provide holistic, mental health solutions.