Bee Pollen, B12 sprays, activated charcoal, probiotic chocolate….there’s a new supplement or superfood that we just cannot live without every month it seems! Do you ever start to question how mankind evolved before wheat grass shots were invented? With so much information available it is easy to become confused so we’ve put together a basic guide to nutritional supplements which will hopefully provide you with a great starting place to assess your needs. Of course this is in addition to good nutrition, daily exercise, adequate sleep and stress management.
It can be an absolute minefield trying to figure out supplements; what brands, how much to take, when, for how long….. you’re probably getting a headache just thinking about it! Our first piece of advice is that ideally you would hand this task over to a professional if you have the means to do so. A qualified nutritionist will track back through your health history, assess symptoms, consider any genetic trends, advise on your nutrition, consider your lifestyle and account for environmental actors you may not of even thought of that might increase your need for particular nutrients.
We believe for most people some degree of supplementation is necessary but what is important to understand is most needs are very individual. Taking a supplement because a pal raves about it could be disastrous for you. We’ve put together a step-by-step guide that will allow you to apply some logic and structure to your supplement programme and support you to make more effective decisions.
Step 1 – Assess Your Nutrition
Before you take them in pill, powder or shakes assess whether you could improve your dietary intake of nutrients. We provide a guide to the healthiest sources of specific vitamins & minerals here in our “Daily Dose” article.
Much of what we think offer the best food sources has been dictated by supposed nutrient density scoring schemes like the ANDI Index (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) which rates foods on a scale from 1 to 1000 based on their nutrient content. There are many other similar schemes claiming to evaluate the micronutrient content of foods, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants. However, many of these scoring systems are flawed in that they are biased towards serving government interests and backing their health recommendations and we all know where that’s got us!
To save the day Mat Lalonde, Ph.D (also referred to as “The Kraken”) has devised a new model of nutrient density based upon scientific guidelines. Mat observed that grains and legumes were often accorded a high values based upon their uncooked state which is inedible! Once cooked their nutrition was not quite so impressive. His more accurate scoring scheme is detailed below:
As you can see organ meats are the most nutrient dense foods and other animal foods feature highly. This is still NOT accounting for their essential fatty acid, essential amino acids, minerals and bioavailability! It’s a wise move to ensure those foods that score highest feature regularly in your nutrition. Our eyes fixated on No.4 🙂
Another thing that is important is ensuring you eat a variety of protein sources to cover your body’s need for essential amino acid.
Apps like My Fitness Pal are great to ensure you hit your total protein needs and consume at least 1g of protein daily per kilo of bodyweight but most people benefit from 1.2-2g if exercising. If not you may need to add in protein supplement to reach this target (you can chose whey, rice, hemp or pea – we like Pulsin)
In terms of assessing your fat intake. If you are following a paleo foundation your nutrition will likely be adequate in terms of saturated fats (meat, coconut oil, butter) and monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds). Most people do need to ensure they are eating enough essential fatty acids, known as Omega 3 & Omega 6, as our body’s cannot synthesise these – therefore we must source through nutrition. Omega 6 is pretty abundant in our modern day diet but most people are lacking those essential omega 3’s. Ensure that you eat around 3-4 servings of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herrings) each week and limit your intake of omega 6 fats. The following table provides a great guide to balancing omega 3 & 6 essential fatty acids.
You can use nutrition trackers like Chron-O-Meter to look at your balance of both essential fatty acids and amino acids.
More than anyone we would love to believe that you can obtain all your essential nutrients from food alone, however, sadly this is rarely the case. The way our food is farmed and retailed has a huge impact upon its nutritional value. Many nutrients like antioxidants and vitamins degrade quickly when the fruit or vegetable has been picked or chopped. Many fresh foods maybe kept in storage for several weeks before reaching the supermarket shelves. Another issue is that some of the minerals added to our soils over the last few decades have depleted other essential minerals including selenium, magnesium and zinc. Buying locally and seasonally is your best means of ensuring you are getting more nutrients so head out to local farms and farmers markets or order from online local delivery services like Riverford or Abel & Cole.
The other thing to consider is that sometimes, even despite our best efforts at times, we just might not eat enough of these foods (or get enough sunlight for adequate vitamin D) or our lifestyles deplete them so quickly that we need to be shoving down kale and liver all day long to keep our levels healthy. As a result common deficiencies that often need to be buffered with a daily supplement include iodine, magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C and K2.
Step 2 – Assess Your Needs
First ask yourself the question:
“Am I eating a varied enough diet that provides all the essential micronutrients, proteins, fats detailed above?”
Some obvious pointers are:
- If you’re not eating any oily fish chances are you need an Omega 3 supplement to balance your Omega 6 intake.
- If you struggle to get 1 hour of daylight exposure on several parts of your skin you will likely need a daily vitamin D supplement.
- If you don’t eat many animal products or dairy you may need to add in some protein supplementation, B vitamins (especially B12) and minerals like calcium, magnesium and iron.
- If you don’t eat many local, fresh fruits and vegetables you may need some extra micronutrient support, especially zinc, selenium and magnesium.
- Exercise and stress increase your need for B vitamins, Vitamin C and antioxidants to balance the inflammation.
- Medications will often deplete nutrients like B vitamins, zinc and antioxidants due to their demands on the liver for detoxification.
A good start is stepping back a little and reviewing your nutrition and lifestyle. Laboratory testing is the most reliable means of assessing your nutritional status, however, it’s expensive and not accessible for many people. The ONE test by Genova offers a complete review of both vitamin, mineral, protein, antioxidants needs and gut health.
A GP can also run a standard blood profile which is useful for looking at your immune health, B12, folate, iron and ferritin (stored iron), calcium, potassium and kidney and liver function. Increasingly GP surgeries are conducting vitamin D tests – especially if you have darker skin (as your skin is generally better at buffering sunlight our primary source of vitamin D). You can also access a test online http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk. Incidentally, tests for magnesium, omega 3:6 balance and general gastrointestinal health are best invested in with a functional medicine practitioner or naturopath as they generally will choose more accurate assessment methods.
Reviewing your digestive health is incredibly useful overall as is following an elimination diet to see if any of your health issues improve as per our good gut guide. You can look at your stomach acid levels using bicarbonate of soda, measure your transit time and run a mini analysis of daily stool with the Bristol Stool Scale.
Nowadays you can pick up a blood pressure monitor on the high street and test you own blood pressure regularly, as one of the biggest risk factors for a cardiovascular event this is a smart health marker to monitor. You can also use a blood glucose monitor to check your insulin health.
Step 3 – Assess Your Physical Health
- It’s suggested that small white spots on your finger nails could be indicative of a possible zinc deficiency.
- Recurrent dry skin and hair could be a deficiency of essential fatty acids.
- Brittle nails, lack of energy and numbness or tingling in hands and feet could be linked to a B vitamin deficiency.
- Recurrent issues with teeth and joints might be a results of an imbalance between fat soluble vitamins ADEK, especially K2 and Calcium.
- Recurrent colds would suggest low immune function and maybe low zinc, vitamins ADEK, and vitamin C.
- It’s suggested Keratosis Pilaris, the small bumps some people get on their tricep (also referred to as ‘chicken skin’) maybe linked to vitamin A or omega 3 deficiency.
- Easy bruising and poor wound healing could be linked to a vitamin C deficiency.
Before you jump online to order a stack of fish oils to fix your split ends remember human biology is much more complex than this and the body consists of a several systems (immune, hormone, detoxification) that interact to help us function and determine our health outcomes. No single pill will necessarily fix the problem, for example, if you discover you have low iron levels despite eating iron rich foods, then an iron supplement (opt for Hema Plex or Floradix) may be helpful short term to get your levels healthy again. Remember, what’s most important is that you investigate the underlying cause as there could be some other health issues going on; including impaired digestion and absorption, low levels of stomach acid (caused by chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies and medications) even stomach bleeding commonly caused by long terms use of aspirin or ibuprofen. Establishing and addressing the cause is essential to lessen the reliance on supplements in the future and ensure the body is functionining optimally.
Furthermore, many vitamins and minerals work together synergistically so supplementing with one may not improve your nutrient status at all. A good example is if you are vitamin A deficient. Zinc is involved in the transportation of vitamin A so if you’re also deficient in zinc (very common in the UK) just supplementing with vitamin A might not make a difference. The great thing about food is that they contain such a range of nutrients you often don’t have to worry about this.
Step 4 – Follow Our Basic Guide
Multivitamin – We generally recommend most people take a multivitamin if not regularly then at least occasionally to help buffer their body against deficiency. It’s highly contentious as no one multi nutrient will have the right dose for you and so you might prefer to consume eggs, seafood and organs meats on a regular basis instead. Try and source a multivitamin with B vitamins in their active form (more details here) and K2. How much: Follow guidelines, all multi nutrients differ. When: daily taken with meals, usually breakfast and lunch as some B vitamins can be stimulating. Brands: Designs For Health Complete Multi, Thorne Multi Complex.
Vitamin D: Ideally test your levels frequently and buy in D3 form. How much: 2000-5000IUs daily taken in the morning (may cause insomnia if taken in the evening) Brands: Better You Spray, Nutri Avanced D3 Melts, Biocare,
Magnesium: Buy chelated forms such as citrate, malate or taurate. How much: 200-600mg. When: As a calming, relaxing mineral it’s often best taken in the evenings with dinner and before bed. Brands: Allergy Research, Biocare, Thorne, Designs For Health, Nutri Advanced, Solgar
Vitamin C: Buy buffered forms rather than ascorbic acid as this can be aggressive on the gut (and a laxative in high doses). How much: 1000mg daily. When: Take with meals Brands: Allergy Research, Biocare, Nutri Advanced, Solgar
Zinc: Buy chelated form such as picolinate that also has added Copper to keep the minerals in balance (or eat liver as a source of copper). How Much: 15-50mg When: take in the evening before bed. Brands: Higher Nature, Solaray
Fish Oils: Opt for a pharmaceutical brand that mentions the oil contains added antioxidants such as vitamin E to keep it stable (and prevent oxidation), check it is filtered for PCBs, Heavy Metals and dioxins. AVOID high street brands which rarely do this. How Much: 1-5 mg daily. A capsule offers 1 gram, a teaspoon usually 5 grams When: With meals. Brands: Eskimo, Biocare, Nordic Naturals, Minami, MorEPA, Carlsons
Nutritional supplements can also offer a therapeutic role, however, we strongly advise you liaise with a professional nutritional therapist before taking these. For example, some supplements may interact with medications. Typically (after consultations) we recommend:
- DIM – for hormonal balance and health issues based on estrogen dominance
- NAC, Milk Thistle, B vitamins and buffered vitamin C for detoxification support
- Collagen – To improve health of joints, tendons, ligaments and the digestive tract
- Hydrocholric acid, enzymes, glutamine, vitamin A, zinc and probiotics to improve digestive wellbeing.
Step 5- Add In Supplemental Super Foods
Yes there’s maca, baobab fruit, acai, goji, spirulina and more. Whilst these foods are a dense source of a number of essential nutrients so are eggs, liver, homemade bone broths, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. We generally suggest everyone invest in good quality (grass fed, local, seasonal, organic) first and then if you have the resources to dabble in these superfoods then go for it. We often use maca to support energy, adrenal support, and endurance. Also a combination of both green and red powders for antioxidants, many of the greens such as chlorella can be helpful in protecting the body against heavy metal exposure. We’re currently adding a teaspoon of Vital Just Reds or Vital Just Greens to our morning smoothie but if it runs out a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric or ginger is also fantastic and easily disguised with some xylitol or raw honey if needs be.
We’re often asked about supplementation so we hope this step-by-step guide has been useful.