One of the things I really enjoyed learning about last semester was the basic importance of food nutrients and dietary supplements. In a world where “easy” and “quick” are the solutions mostly used, I wanted to take a moment and express to you all the importance of eating our nutrients rather than relying on vitamins and dietary supplements. There are a few reasons for this but one of the most important ones is that nothing can replace the nutrients you get from foods. There are exceptions, of course. For example, if your healthcare provider has told you to take a certain supplement, then continue to do so until they say otherwise. And I do want to make this very clear: speak to your healthcare provider about what is best for you.
First, let me start by briefly talking to you about the different types of vitamins. There are two categories: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Our fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E & K. They are stored in the liver and stay in our bodies for a longer period of time; therefore, we do not typically have to worry about consuming these every single day.
The most common fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies in the developing world are A & D.
Vitamin A – can be found in plants containing Pro-vitamin A compounds called carotenoids. These are yellow, orange, and red so a great example of foods you can eat to get your vitamin A would be apricots, carrots, sweet potato and red peppers. The importance of vitamin A is that it is very important for our vision. Vitamin A helps promote clear cornea and convert light energy into nerve impulses. It is also especially important for pregnant women, or women trying to conceive, as it supports fetal development.
Vitamin D – is mostly found in the sunlight so a great way to get our take of vitamin D is to get a little sunshine in our day. It can also be found in liver, fatty fish & egg yolks. The greatest function for vitamin D would be it allows for bone absorption of calcium and phosphorus and helps in bone maintenance.
Water-soluble vitamins would be the B vitamins and vitamin C. These are detected in our kidney and any excess will be excreted in our urine.
B Vitamins – With the B vitamins, the one most commonly talked about is B12. The reason is that this particular vitamin can only be found in animal products. If you are vegetarian or vegan, a great source of B12 that is not a supplement would be drinking plant-based milk that has been fortified with vitamin B12. If you look closely at food labels you will find that all plant-based milks are fortified with the vitamins we need including calcium, vitamin D and B12. I try and drink at least a cup a day, so a little does go a long way.
Vitamin C – is one of the most popular supplements used. We have all seen the packets of Emergen-C and others like it to help prevent us from getting sick, however, eating foods with vitamin C isn’t too difficult and consuming more than what we need isn’t going to magically make us feel better because our bodies will excrete all the excess rapidly. If you want to prevent a cold, I would suggest eating these foods instead: citrus fruits, cabbage, dark green veggies, cantaloupe, strawberries, lettuce, tomato & potatoes. Vitamin C does also help with iron absorption, so if that is something you are also concerned about then it is a win-win.
Speaking of Iron that is another supplement that is commonly used.
Iron – pregnant women, athletes, vegetarians, and women on restricted diets are the ones to most commonly have a deficiency of iron. Being deficient in iron can result in becoming anemic, which can cause us to feel fatigue, weak, get headaches, and have a greater sensitivity to cold temperatures. In very severe cases, pica may occur. Pica is when cravings or consumption of non-food items such as chalk, dirt, paper, etc. occur. Significant sources of iron can be found in nuts, raisins, beans, plants, whole grain breads, veggies, and meats & fish.
Besides vitamins, protein powders are a very talked about and super popular dietary supplement. Whether you are an athlete, stay active, want to loose weight, or want to gain weight, the reality is that we typically already consume the protein we need. For a healthy adult, only 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight is needed per day. In fact, from my studies I have learned that extra protein won’t build extra or quicker muscles, instead the extra calories will turn to fat.
Protein – You can find my list of protein-rich foods from a previous post by clicking here. I understand that we see protein shakes and protein bars everywhere and I have been very overwhelmed by all the different types and brands and honestly, I have found that just eating the right foods makes a huge difference.
Weight loss pills/supplements are used as well, though I believe they have lost popularity due to their lack of credibility. My advise for weight loss would be to increase cardio and decrease complex carbs.
Biggest thing to keep in mind is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So why am I so against dietary supplements?
My biggest issue with supplements is that they are not regulated. Though technically the FDA needs to make sure that what is going out to consumers is safe, most bottles will have a warning that they have not been regulated or been approved by the FDA. Also, there are thousands of different dietary supplements and the department that regulates them is so small, that they can’t actually test and make sure that what companies’ claim is what is truly in the bottle. This allows for some companies to add fillers to capsules and not inform us about what we are really consuming. In addition, the only way you can get toxicity from vitamins is by the dietary supplement form – especially fat-soluble vitamins, because as I mentioned, they stay in our system longer. Unless you’re trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding and are taking a prenatal dietary supplement OR (as I mentioned before) your healthcare provider wants you to take a supplement, there is absolutely no need to consume over 100% of what we need – if it’s a water-soluble vitamin, you’ll just pee it out. Finally, I am a strong believer in the words of Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine.” Eat nutrient dense foods and that will be sufficient.
Thank you so much for reading this & I hope it helps some of you! If you wish to continue to use supplements, just be aware of the company who makes them and educate yourself on what you are putting into your body. No quick remedy is worth risking your life over. Take care & eat well.
Until next time,