Do we really need supplements?
Not only are diets today quite processed, but also whole foods contain a lot fewer nutrients compared to the previous decades, making our diets altogether deficient in certain essential nutrients.
However, before going on explaining the reasons and conditions supplementation may be of benefit, it is necessary to understand the importance of a whole, fresh, organic and unprocessed diet. You can not out-supplement, or even out-exercise, a healthy diet.
Why can't we cover our nutritional needs solely through food?
1. In order for food to be nutrient-dense, the soil in which it has grown needs to be rich in nutrients. Unfortunately, in many areas, the soil has been over-farmed to the point that it no longer contains the nutrients we need.
2. Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and other chemicals reduce the nutrient content of foods.
3. Processing and refining foods, strips even more key nutrients, e.g. 80% of zinc is removed from wheat during the milling process to ensure that a loaf of bread (for instance) has a longer shelf life.
4. Extra chemicals put an additional strain on our bodies, which means that we need more of the key nutrients, and what we are getting in our daily diets represents less.
5. Dieting for a number of years, either restricting food intake or trying different diets, diet drinks or pills, you are more than likely to be deficient in a number of important vitamins and minerals.
6. Certain drugs lead to severe nutrient loss, e.g. the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) depletes the body of B Vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc; antibiotics block the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc and wipe off healthy bacteria from the GI tract; statins reduce CoQ10 production, which has been strongly linked to cardiovascular disease; antacids decrease the absorption of vitamin B12 and vitamin D, a risk factor for osteoporosis; oral hypoglycemics (e.g. Metformin) reduce serum levels of folic acid and vitamin B12.
7. Some people have higher genetic needs for certain nutrients, very commonly magnesium.
8. Stress depletes important nutrients, that are needed for energy purposes, among other functions, and ironically-enough to protect us against the harmful side-effects of stress.
To sum up, the most important aspect of our health is a nutrient-rich diet. On top of that, we all need supplementation at some stage of our lives or for certain symptoms/conditions that we want to deal with. However, not all nutritional supplements are created equally. Many of them are full of nasty fillers, binders and additives. Aim for “clean” brands or quality food-based supplements. Supplements should also be used in moderation and for a specific timeframe. Consult with your physician, naturopath or nutritional therapist in order to make the right choice.
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