The supplement industry is booming, and there’s good reason. In the United States alone, the supplement industry accounts for a $122 billion dollar market and continues to grow with increasing demand for health and wellness products.
Supplements are meant to do exactly what their name suggests— complete/supplement a healthy, well-balanced diet. In fact, it’s well established that the human body was designed to digest and absorb nutrients exclusively through whole food consumption rather than isolation of macronutrients. Whole food sources are highly complex information carriers that combine a variety of enzymes, coenzymes, antioxidants, trace elements, and activators working synergistically to enable digestion, bioavailability, nutrient absorption and usage within the body.
In a perfect world, essential nutrients are consumed through high quality food sources such as sustainable protein, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. Unfortunately we’ve been inundated with health promoting products that claim in order to reach our wellness goals or live a healthy lifestyle, we must use supplements.
Here’s our take on safe supplement use:
Ask your Physician about age-related and population specific nutrition deficiencies
Are you worried you may have a nutrient deficiency? Certain groups of people need different ratios of macro and micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. For example, pregnant and lactating women have higher caloric needs, as well as increased demand for folate, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Menstruating women who lose significant amounts of blood may need iron supplementation. Vegans and vegetarians often fall short of meeting their total nutrient needs, and the elderly are often deficient in vitamin D and B12. Where do you fall within these categories? Do you suspect you may have a deficiency based on lifecycle? Are you consuming enough quality calories? Check with the Doc, and make sure to have blood work done.
Take inventory of your diet and look for areas of improvement
This advice sounds easy, but it actually takes a bit of time and reflection. Keep a food journal or log meals and snacks on a meal tracking app. After journaling for 1-2 weeks, see where your diet falls short. Notice food patterns, cravings and nutrient shortcomings, as well as rough total caloric intake.
Reach for supplements only when you are unable to eat whole foods
Life isn’t perfect and we don’t expect your diet to be either! Here’s where supplements can come into play… by filling in where macro and micronutrients fall short. For example, if you’re traveling often and can’t access and prepare high quality fish, taking purified fish oil is perfectly acceptable. Or, if you’ve completed an extremely intense workout and won’t be able to refuel for a couple hours, reaching for a high quality protein bar won’t hurt (after you check the label of course!) The main goal of this exercise is to think about what your body needs and determine if whole foods are accessible. If not, it’s ok to default to high quality supplement use when whole foods are unavailable.
Become an educated consumer
Unlike food additives and drugs, supplements do not need approval by the FDA for safety and effectiveness. In addition, there are no current standards for potency, dosage, or requirement for warnings of a supplement’s potential side effects.