Do I Need Supplements?
Winter is here. Do I take Vitamin D?
Anne Rollins MS CSSD RD LDN
Years ago my straight up answer to anyone eating a varied diet in the US was unequivocally, No. However, our food supply has dramatically changed and in some cases, is compromised (even the “healthiest” of stuff may be covered in harmful pesticides), our exposure to plastics and harmful chemicals is overwhelming our systems and our mass production of foods may leave us with agriculture that contains only a percentage of nutrients as compared to 30 years ago. Maybe we do need supplements?
While all this is happening, we somehow forgot that the reason we eat is to nourish our bodies with the necessary nutrients to sustain life and prevent disease. We have fallen prey to the delicious temptations. After all, we were evolved to enjoy sugars to ensure we ate the fruit and carbohydrate, vital for short-term energy and full of disease sparing antioxidants and phytonutrients. I don’t think evolution saw high fructose corn syrup and other concentrated sugars coming.
So now that we eat lots of high calorie, low nutrient foods, developed nations have an obesity epidemic with a spike in very manageable diseases. Do we jump on the just take this pill mentality? Not necessarily. Some people who have health issues that do not let them absorb nutrients well through their gut or those who participate in extremes (athletics or astronauts, etc) may need supplements, but will the general public benefit from supplements? And, here’s Pandora’s Box…yes. But, wait. By saying yes as a dietitian, I open the door for many supplements that are not regulated. Just getting a label on a bottle does not mean that the product has been verified. That’s Problem 1. Problem 2 – are you wasting money, placing false expectations on a supplement and short changing your healthy habits for a quick fix? Problem 3 – who’s reputable and what supplements are reasonable to take? So yes, with a problem list.
Problem #1 Solution: Ask a dietitian or google research the product on your own. If researching on your own, be aware of who has written the information. Is it the product’s company or a third party? Are you reading a marketing sheet for the product?
Problem #2 Solution:
Taking a multi vitamin could be useful if you are deficient in the vitamins or minerals contained in the pill. Ideally, you eat foods that contain those nutrients, but if you can’t, or can’t absorb them, a supplement may be necessary. If you are not deficient in these micronutrients, you may be wasting the money as the excess of water soluble vitamins cannot be stored and will just leave your body next time you visit the bathroom. Fat soluble vitamins can accumulate, and if you don’t need them and take them, you can run into the opposite issue of having too much. Also, not good. Speak with a registered dietitian or your medical professional to help you decide about a multi vitamin and/or specific minerals.
The supplement world has no end to the possibilities, and many of them I find, do more harm than good over the long term. Any time you concentrate something, you concentrate all of it. If your protein powder contains a heavy metal that is undetected because it is unregulated and you love it and use it for years, you may be in trouble. Maybe you are drinking a high priced tea or shake for years, and discover the ingredients have no health benefit. You’ve wasted your money. Ask a professional to evaluate the products you are interested in.
Problem #3 Solution: There are several reputable companies with biochemists hard at work to create products to help people get healthier, but there are more companies that just combine ingredients that they source from the cheapest distributer and sell for profit. How do we know which is which in this unregulated industry? You guessed it, ask a dietitian. Usually a sports dietitian will be more up to speed on new supplement products that have health and performance claims because their athletes search out these products regularly and try them the minute they hit the internet/shelf! So who should take what?
My Short List
Vitamin D – Those who live in the most northern and most southern latitudes may consider taking a vitamin D supplement as the sunlight is inconsistent through the winter months and is too low in the sky to provide enough vitamin conversion. I live in the Boston suburbs and take vitamin D. However, if you live south of Boston you still may not be getting enough sunlight. Consider the amount of sunscreen, rash guards, sun protection and outdoor time you get. The older you are, the less you absorb regardless of exposure.
Omega 3’s – Fish oil is a popular supplement that I agree most people should have unless consuming a diet naturally rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Foods rich in omega 3’s are avocado, walnuts, canola oil, salmon and other fatty cold water fish and flax seeds. There are more, but these are my top 5. In short, omega 3’s help balance the inflammatory response by providing the necessary anti – inflammatory compounds. In addition, omega 3’s have been found to have positive impact on the brain (think DHA in baby formula!) When buying an omega 3 you will notice a wide range in price. You want a product with more EPA and DHA (these are the fatty acids that provide most of the health benefit). Look for a product that has a combined total near 700mg. These will be slightly more expensive. The others are cheaper because they essentially just water down the active ingredient and then sell at a lower price.
Tart Cherry – I researched this product years ago and was impressed! Many independent studies found the same health benefits of tart cherries whether they were looking for them or not! That is saying something. Seems tart cherries impact recovery, pain reduction, promote better sleep, and accelerate strength recovery after exercise. All great things because sometimes your workout is walking upstairs or a long walk and tart cherries are there for you, too! Sold as a powder, frozen, concentrate liquid or a juice, consume alone or add other to smoothies or other beverages.
Protein Powders – Isolated proteins powders are a slippery slope and I recommend them in a few circumstances. Athletes who are working to extremes with several different goals, people unable to digest large proteins and perhaps vegetarians and vegans (and this is not a given) may benefit from a protein supplement. The supplement industry has convinced many of us that we need a protein supplement to be healthy, lose weight or meet our goals. Not so. Protein available from food is always the best way to obtain nutrients. Sure, you are not going to add chicken to your smoothie, but you could add peanut butter instead of a protein powder. Folks with kidney disease or risk for a compromised kidney should speak to their dietitian or doctor. (Processing protein in large amounts can be a stressor to a compromised kidney). If you do find yourself needing a protein supplement, choose very wisely and spend the extra money. Many protein products have been found to contain trace heavy metals and other unhealthy compounds that can accumulate and cause more harm than good.
Who Can We Trust?
I use several KleanAthlete products for a few reasons, but the top two are that they 1) certify that you will not test positive for banned substances which leads to the second top reason 2) there’s just not a lot of crazy additives that potentially could mimic the metabolite of a banned substance. OK 3) Great customer service. Vitamin D, omega 3’s, protein and multi vitamin are supplements that I would suggest in general. There are a few others that may benefit several individual, athlete on not. Magnesium and probiotics are hot topics and also available from Klean. https://www.kleanathlete.com/our-products/supplements.html
Juice Performer – Comes ready to drink! I add some to smoothies and drink stand alone before and after exercise. Interested and want more info? https://www.thecorediet.com/blog/tartcherry/
As I say, there are thousands of products to evaluate, but I get the most questions about these supplements. Want info on something else? Just ask!
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