Hi folks! The other day I saw a friend in the health food store, and she was fascinated to see what I had in my basket. “What supplements are you buying?” she asked. “And what should I buy?” This is actually the most common nutrition question I’m asked, after, “Should I avoid carbs?” (NO!)
The supplement marketing industry would have you believe that you should buy all the supplements (of their brand!) on the shelves. But I’m here to tell you that real, wholesome, unadulterated FOOD is always your best source of every nutrient. Bottom line. There is just no substitute for eating well, because no supplement in the world can come close to replicating the symphony & balance of nutrients in whole foods. Even if that little packet the size of your pocket tissue claims, “Contains 6 servings of green vegetables!!!”
That said, there are times when things happen and we don’t eat as well as we want to… we get busy or stressed or maybe skip a few meals here and there. Maybe we avoid certain foods, making it more difficult to get the range of nutrients we should. Or maybe we do eat a well-rounded, wholesome most of the time, and supplements can act as a little booster to that. I see supplements as an adjunct to a healthy diet, not a substitute for one.
So in direct answer to your question… yes, I do take supplements, even though I eat well most of the time. And I’ve also recommended supplements to my clients, though not always the same ones I take. Supplementation is very individualised depending on your diet, lifestyle, and workout habits.
Here’s what I take and why:
- Multi-vitamin: even though I eat a ton of veggies, fruits, and whole grains every day, I still take a general multi-vitamin. Because there are those days that I might not get enough of what I need, given my heavy workouts and high metabolism. The more you eat, the more energy you produce from your food, and therefore the more vitamins (which act as co-enzymes in the energy-producing metabolic processes) you need. My “age-appropriate” multi contains about 33-50% of the USRDA for most vitamins & minerals, just enough to top me off if I’m a bit under.
- Digestive enzymes: this supplement is a booster to my body’s own natural production of enzymes. In addition, I’m lactose intolerant, and this formulation contains lactase… so if I do eat yogurt or ice cream (not too often, I admit), I won’t suffer from it.
- Probiotics: gut health is everything. The more research I do about the intestinal tract, the more impressed I am with how significantly it affects our overall health. Our gut has its own nervous system, making it like a second brain for us. And many, many of its functions are influenced by the presence of good bacteria. Studies show that enough good bacteria in your gut can reduce inflammation, change the way fats are metabolized (for the better!), improve the immune system, and ward off chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I never miss a day of my probiotics, and I would recommend them for everyone, unless you eat outrageous amounts of naturally fermented foods (examples include kimchi, pickled vegetables, kefir, tempeh)… which most of us don’t.
- L-glutamine: this amino acid can improve the rate of cell turnover in the gut, making digestion easier and preventing gas and bloating after meals. (It’s not pictured because I ran out & it’s out of stock at my store.)
- Zinc: I take 25 mg per day (I break these tablets in half) to boost my immune system. With all the germs & coughing people in my gym, I need all the boosting I can get!
- Vitamin C: I take 500mg 4 times a day. Yes, this is a lot… well over the USRDA. However, the USRDA was really set as a bare minimum (as in, eat 60mg/day to prevent scurvy) and in reality, we all need much more than that. Vitamin C is one of our most powerful anti-oxidants, and when you consider all the free radicals we’re up against from pollution, the oxidative stress of metabolism, and even the additives in processed food… I think we could all use more Vitamin C. (Not pictured because I broke the bottle & now they’re just all in a little Tupperware… it happens!)
- Potassium citrate: I rarely need to take this, because I eat a ton of potassium in my food (papaya, pineapple, coconut water, sweet & white potatoes, spinach, & broccoli are my main sources), but on the days I’m a bit under, I top off with this. Potassium is vital for fluid regulation and avoiding water retention. But like I said, usually I eat enough and I’m still on my first bottle after 18 months!
- Magnesium citrate: I take 200 mg twice a day, once after my workout and again at bedtime. It’s involved in the muscle contraction/relaxation mechanism, and I find it helps me relax at night. Look for magnesium citrate or maleate, not oxalate… it metabolises better.
- Melatonin: speaking of relaxing at night, I take 10mg of melatonin before bed every night. It helps me not only go to sleep, but also stay asleep… my biggest problem, actually. Now, this is a high dose, and I didn’t start with 10mg, nor should you. While melatonin is not addictive, it can be powerful, so if you decide to try it, start with 1mg and see how you do. For many people this is adequate. I don’t expect to take melatonin forever, either… maybe only while Mark & I have different sleeping schedules.
- 5-HTP: this is a precursor to melatonin, and the two work in conjunction to help me get a good night’s rest. I take 100mg at bedtime. I love it because it’s a good-sized, berry-flavoured quick-dissolve tablet and I feel like I’m getting a little bedtime treat. Maybe that’s actually what’s helping me sleep, just the comforting routine of it… I’ll never know! But whatever, I’m sleeping better than ever these days (nights?!), so I’m not gonna mess with a good thing.
So that’s it, folks! This is by no means a comprehensive list of supplements, just what I happen to take. I would, however, definitely recommend probiotics for everyone across the board. Look for “live and active cultures”, and preferably purchase ones that are in the refrigerated section of your store (and keep them in your fridge too.). Beyond that, supplementation is very individual. Just shoot me a message or comment if you’re wondering about supplements for yourself.
But most of all, eat well, my friends! Food is your best supplement of all.