To Supplement Or Not To Supplement

The supplement industry is pretty large across many spheres in our world today. There are supplements geared towards vegetarians as well as those in the paleo movement, supplements designed to reduce inflammation and even help your hair grow faster, supplements aimed at juice fanatics and for those who simply want an all-encompassing multivitamin. The question remains though: Should we even be taking supplements?

Back to the Basics

Let’s get back to basics first. Dictionary.com defines the word supplement as “something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.” Something added to complete a thing implies that we have to have “a thing” first. The supplement is an addition to the thing. It is not the focus. The thing should be the focus, and in this case, that thing is our diets. A healthy, well-rounded diet has to be the underlying goal if we are to achieve health. Supplementing is just an added option.

Another thing to consider when deciding which supplements, if any, you choose to incorporate into your routine is the quality of those supplements. Be the person who reads the labels. If that bottle you are considering lists a bunch of synthetic, man-made chemicals that you can’t even pronounce, you should put it down and walk away. Besides the fact that our bodies were never intended to digest or live off of synthetic replacements of the real deal, consuming these limited vitamins and minerals leaves our bodies open to even more deficiencies than they might prevent. On top of that, there are countless fillers, binders, and preservatives out there. They range from the good, the bad, and the ugly to everything in between.

When we consume real food (think vegetables and fruits here) in their whole state, they not only contain vitamins and minerals not yet discovered by humans, but they also contain a variety of the ones we do know. A synthetic multivitamin can only contain the things product developers know to put into the product. They can’t account for the elements we don’t know anything about yet.

And sure, beta-carotene is good for us, but when we eat a carrot, we get a heck of a lot more benefit than taking beta-carotene alone, especially if that beta-carotene is a synthetic version. Taking large doses of single vitamins or minerals throws off the balance achieved by consuming a whole food. If you are downing high doses of synthetic vitamin C to ward off a cold, take note. Your body gets so busy breaking that down that it won’t process the other complementary vitamins. Your body desperately needs those complementary vitamins. When one micronutrient is out of balance, it creates more imbalance.

When Food isn’t Enough

Unfortunately, due to poor soil management and using pesticides, our food no longer contains the nutrients that it used to. So even if you are eating an optimal diet, there may still be holes in terms of what your body needs to function optimally. Throw in the fact that almost no one eats the perfect diet every single day, and the chances of deficiency grow even more.

Then there is the unique case of vitamin D. This fat-soluble vitamin is not readily found in most foods. Instead, we make it in response to sunlight, though a decrease in time spent outdoors and the use of sunscreens has given many of us dangerously low levels. Because I know how important vitamin D is, I spend a lot of sunscreen-free time out in my garden in the summer. Yet living in Wisconsin means that my chances of having adequate vitamin D levels year-round is slim to none. After confirming my suspicions with an at-home blood test, I added a vitamin D3 supplement to my regimen.

What About Health Goals?

When you are facing a specific health concern, supplements can play an integral part of a healing protocol. The body knows how to heal, but sometimes it does not have the raw materials to make that happen. Targeted supplements to support the body won’t heal or cure you, but they can give your body what it needs so that your body can do what it was designed to do.

However, even the best supplements won’t account for much if you are still eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). What you eat is primary. Supplements are secondary.

Supplements can be a great addition to a solid diet. We need to always remember though, that the food we eat is much more important than taking supplements. If you choose to take supplements, look for whole food supplements without synthetic fillers. Avoid singular vitamins to help improve the balance needed for health. You deserve the real deal, so don’t settle for a replacement.

Do you feel that supplements are a necessary part of your routine?

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