Are supplements necessary if you have a balanced diet?
You may be one of those people who ‘eats the rainbow’ every day, but supplementing your diet with additional vitamins is something we should all be doing – regardless of how well we eat.
Our modern lifestyles and environment can impact how much nutrient content we’re actually getting from the foods we eat. Because the sad fact is, our soil quality just ain’t what it used to be – meaning our fruit and vegetables often aren’t either.
To get a breakdown of exactly why supplementation is so important for achieving optimal wellbeing, we asked integrative health practitioner Dr Tracy Chandler from Dr Wellness to put it into simple terms for us. Here’s her take:
- Thanks to the toxic environment / chemical soup we live in (which includes the foods we ingest, products we put on our skin and the air we breathe) there are extra stressors associated with modern living that weren’t a factor in previous generations.
- There’s a depletion of nutrients from our soils, which in turn means a decrease in the content of ‘good’ fats, vitamins and minerals in the wild foods we evolved to eat. For example, there are 40% fewer vitamins and minerals in our fruits and vegetable than there were 50 years ago.
- Our food is picked before it is ripe (before achieving optimal nutrient content) and is stored and transported poorly.
- Many of us are eating far too many processed foods (including so called ‘healthy’ bars) which have virtually no nutrients. Consuming these empty calories effectively means we are ‘starving’. This is a big driver to why we over eat, because we are under-nourished and are driven to seek out more food.
- Genetic modification of traditional foods such as wheat is reducing its nutritional content. In the case of wheat, these modifications are increasing the gluten content which more people react to than they realise.
- Many of us are also deficient in stomach acid and digestive enzymes. This is particularly the case for stomach acid thanks to the over-use of stomach acid lowering medications such as Quickeze and Losec. Most people on these medications actually need the opposite, that is, supplemental stomach acid. The reason these issues create a need for us to take supplements is that if levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes are low we are not able to absorb the nutrients from our food as well as someone with optimal levels.
These factors all create increased nutritional demands on our bodies, usually through chronic inflammation. With sub-optimal nutrition, our biochemical pathways are unable to function effectively, which can lead to disease. “If you eat really well you might just about achieve the levels of nutrients in government recommended RDIs (recommended daily intakes) but these RDIs are designed to prevent nutritional deficiencies, not ensure patients have optimal health,” says Dr Chandler.
The most common deficiencies Dr Chandler is seeing in her integrative medicine practice are zinc, iron, magnesium, folic acid and vitamin D. “Vitamin D and zinc in particular are two essential nutrients important for skin health but additionally there is solid evidence for vitamin D and its role in preventing cancer, optimising immune function and easing depression,” she explains.
Undergoing proper testing through an integrative health practitioner is the most comprehensive way to determine where your nutritional gaps lie and how to supplement effectively. Different types of testing available through integrative GPs in New Zealand include blood testing, hair mineral assessment, urine mineral assessment, urine hormone testing, urinary organic tests, stool analysis and genetic tests.
Dr Chandler stresses that testing is important as it reduces the risk of over-supplementation. “With supplements, as in most things, one size does not fit all!”
Do you take any vitamins to supplement your diet and did you undergo testing beforehand? We’d love to hear about your experience, so please share in the comments below.