Multivitamins, fish oil, antioxidants, vitamin D, B-complex vitamins, conjugated linoleic acid, amino acids, protein powders, chromium, pyruvate, GuChomps/Gel Packs, creatine, fat burners, how many supplements do we need? You might be sick of hearing me say this, but let your body do its job. Why all of a sudden do we feel it is necessary to incorporate supplements in our diet? Our body has always been able to do its job.
Supplements are just that, designed to supplement, not overrun the diet. We only need enough to make up for shortfall of our recommended dietary allowance. RDA is the dietary intake level of a nutrient considered sufficient by the Food and Nutrition Board. These nutrient levels are set to meet the needs for over 95% of the population. The kicker is that most balanced diets of 2,000 calories will meet these needed levels. Eating more is not better.
Without a doubt, nutrients play an integral in human physiology, but over abundance of a particular nutrient may inhibit other physiological functions, creating a nutrient tug-o-war. There are Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL) that are set to caution against excessive nutrient consumption, because it can be harmful. Yet, despite eating a balanced meal, many still take additional supplements that can have significant adverse reactions.
There are a scant few in the population that actually need supplements. For example, nursing or pregnant women, those with strict calorie restrictions or nutritional deficits secondary food intolerance, seniors or those with medical illness and some athletes. But, these individuals need a select few supplements, not excessive amounts of unnecessary supplements.
For this blog, I wanted to talk about the most common nutritional supplements, share their toxicity effects and then provide a reasonable food source that is a better choice that the supplement of choice.
Don’t Take That: Multivitamin
Really, is your body deficient in 30 plus vitamins and minerals? You might be deficient in 1 or 2, but not all. Many times the vitamin / mineral intake level of a the standard multivitamin far exceeds RDA levels and sometimes certain vitamins or minerals are near the UL. Now, add this with normal eating and you are certain to go beyond the UL in many of your vitamins and minerals. This creates toxic effects, which can alter normal body physiology, cause illness, and inhibit other minerals from doing their job.
Eat This! A Well-balance meal
This is easy, to get all of your vitamins and minerals in adequate levels eat a well-balanced meal that meets your caloric needs. This will prevent toxicity and get all vitamins and nutrients for optimal human functioning.
Don’t Take That: Vitamin D
Vitamin D certainly has a positive impact on the body, including increased bone mineral density. Unfortunately, chronic overdose of Vitamin D can lead to hyperparathyroidism and hypercalcemia, which can lead to nausea, weakness, insomnia, and even renal failure.
Eat This! Mushrooms, fish, and sunlight.
Most of the Vitamin D needed for you body can be achieved through our own internal synthesis. In just 10-15 minutes of sunlight your skin will begin to synthesize vitamin D. However, if you live in a cave, or are nocturnal, eat fish – catfish, salmon, mackerel with a side of mushrooms to get your vitamin D needs.
Don’t Take That: Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids or fish oils are the absolute best fat one can have. They are best known for the significant cardiovascular benefits. Unfortunately, excessive amounts cause excessive bleeding, stroke, headaches, increased blood glucose levels, and Gastrointestinal disorders.
Eat This! Fish, avacados, nuts, flax seeds, oils
There are many foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. It is easy to get the recommended amount in the typical diet. In addition, to the richness of Omega-3 content you also get all the other nutrients that accompany these foods, making food a much better option than the supplement.
Don’t Take That: B-Complex Vitamins
A water soluble vitamin that has many positive effects such as reduced stress, increased energy, and higher metabolic rates. Since B vitamins are water soluble toxic effects are rare as the excess is typically excreted in urine. However, Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is linked to peripheral neuroathy, and B12 is linked to pernicious anemia disease, but these are rare. Others have been linked to skin and neurological disorders. The biggest factor here is that we rarely need them
Eat This! Most foods
Found in most unprocessed foods, plants, dairy products, meats and fortified cereals, it is rare that we have a deficiency in B-vitamins. If you are stressed, or lacking energy, go exercise – don’t take a pill, you will just excrete it all in a few hours anyway.
Don’t Take That: Vitamin C
Known for it’s ability to boost the immune system, vitamin C is widely used and found as an additive to many foods. That said the research to support these claims are suspect at best. Vitamin C is also known as an effective antioxidant for its ability to reduce oxidative stress, through removal of free radicals. As a water soluble vitamin, excess Vitamin C is excreted in the urine, however, there is a risk for diarrhea and in rare cases the formation of kidney stones is possible.
Eat This! Citrus Fruits
Rich sources include oranges, peppers, grapefruits, peaches, papayas, pineapples, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, and melons.
Don’t Take That: Protein Supplement
Protein supplements, particularly, meal replacement shakes with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio taken 15-45 minutes after exercise, has significant benefits for refueling lost energy stores. Sadly, most will take protein supplements throughout the day – even when not exercising. Very little quality evidence exists showing positive effects of more than 2 grams/kg body weight of protein per day. Most literature recommends 1.2-1.8 grams / kg of body weight per day. Then there is the other theory that our body can only digest a certain amount of protein per hour – so excessive amounts gets converted or is passed through. So why spend the money?
Eat This! Meat, dairy, some plants
If you are exercising a post workout protein shake might be beneficial. If you are skipping meals, a protein shake might be beneficial. Otherwise save your money, eat lean meats such as turkey, chicken, pork, and fish. In addition, dairy products, and beans are good protein sources. It’s cheaper and tastes better than chalk flavored milk.
Don’t Take That: Energy Gummies
These have become the rage for long distance endurance athletes. Energy gummies are filled with electrolytes, antioxidants, and amino acids to combat breakdown, fatigue and provide long lasting energy. Great right? Sure, but why spend the money if something cheaper works just as well or better.
Eat This! Raisins
A study published a few years ago compared raisins vs. energy gummies. There was no difference in performance between the raisin group and the gummy group. In addition, the raisin group showed a lower insulin spike when compared to the gummy group, a win for the raisin. Plus, the raisin group demonstrated higher free fatty acid content in the blood post activity. What does this mean, for the same performance gains, raisins allowed for more fat metabolism vs. gummy candy – most of us could stand to lose fat.
I know I will catch flack for this. Many of my friends are big supplement supporters. Yes, supplements do serve a purpose, but only in moderation and only if you need it. If you question whether or not you need a supplement, seek consultation from a registered dietitian – they will evaluate your diet and tell you exactly what you need.