What Supplements Do Health Experts Use?
In the age of the internet we are bombarded with crazes, viral videos, and false information - all of which can become extremely prevalent very quickly. Open Facebook and you may see that golgi berries are the newest "superfood", whereas if you open Twitter, chia seeds may have so many "superfood" functions that it's obviously a must to eat. With so much information flying around, it is tough to separate the truth from the fake. So what should we eat?
First and foremost, accredited dietitians Alexandra Parker and Anna Debenham from The Biting Truth say that the best way to get the required nutrients is through food "Food first, always. Food provides vitamins in the most biologically available form, in the right quantities and combined with other complementary nutrients". This means eating a varied, well-balanced diet including fresh fruit, vegetables, breads, cereals, rice, lean meats and fish, eggs, and plenty of dairy. Furthermore, the effects of adequate hydration from water cannot be understated, having huge impacts on cognitive performance, kidney function, and physical exertion1.
Although supplements and superfoods may be advertised as "magic bullets", they "...should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet" says Holly Vogt from The Fit Pharmacist. Supplements do not provide the same variety of nutrients naturally found in foods, nor can they counteract a poor diet. "A piece of fresh fruit, for example, contains antioxidants, phytochemicals, fibre and many other nutrients that do not make it into the vitamin jar but play a huge role in our health" says Debenham. "Saying that, there is a time and a place for supplements and there's good evidence to suggest that if a vitamin or mineral supplement replaces a deficiency, it will have beneficial outcomes."
So when should you take supplements? The predominant situation where someone should take supplements is when food alone cannot meet a persons demand for nutrients. The list below isn't exhaustive and is only some examples of situations where supplements may be beneficial.
- Pregnant women trying to conceive - folate is required for growth and development of the fetus, and deficiencies lead to congenital abnormalities2.
- Vegans, vegetarians, and the elderly who may have issues absorbing nutrients from their food. Iron and Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) are almost exclusively found from animal derived products.
- People with allergies such as lactose intolerance would have a harder time obtaining the necessary amount of calcium that predominantly comes from dairy products.
- People who have just been ill and taken antibiotics. Antibiotics non-specifically kills bacteria, which may also kill the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Probiotics can aid in restoring the gut microbiota which is necessary for digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- People that have a restricted diet or limited food options due to money, geographical location, holidays, etc.
Now it is clear when you should take supplements, but how do you decide which brands to choose from? There are so many brands and derivatives of the same nutrients it is hard to decide. Here are some steps to choose the optimum supplements for you.
- Look for supplements without added fillers, colouring, unnecessary ingredients.
- Buy quality and look for where it is made.
- Don't purchase based on logo, price, marketing without doing prior research.
- Buy sustainable if possible in the case of omega 3, as overfishing is becoming a massive problem which affects the oceans ecosystem.
- Maintain a healthy diet at the same time to enable maximum absorption.
Now that is out of the way, what health supplements do the aforementioned health experts actually use?
- Fish oil - omega-3 fatty acids have numerous beneficial and well documented effects including improving brain and eye function. The human body cannot synthesise these omega-3s by itself so they have to come from dietary sources. However many of us do not get enough of these from our diet as fish may be expensive or time consuming to procure. "I also like cod liver oil tablets, which are high in Vitamin D and A" adds Vogt.
- Probiotics - these are the beneficial bacteria in the gut that help digest and absorb nutrients from the food we eat. "I always take a probiotic to ensure my gut health" says celebrity trainer Tegan Haining. There is well documented scientific evidence that gut health is intricately linked to immune function as well. "Whether you take it as a capsule, drink or powder, the choice is yours. If you've taken a course of antibiotics, supplementing with probiotics will also be beneficial to your gut" adds Parker.
- Vitamin D - is necessary for overall health, improving things like bones and muscles. "Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient and is one of the 24 micronutrients essential for human survival. Due to the increasing rates of vitamin D deficiency and the implications, supplementation is encouraged if optimal levels are not present in the body," says Vogt. This is not so much an issue in the summertime, however in winter with a 9 to 5 desk job, some may benefit from Vitamin D supplementation.
- Magnesium - while we all know magnesium is a metal that can be used in school chemistry experiments and even the manufacturing of bombs and fireworks, it is also integral to the health and wellbeing of our bodies. It is an important enzyme/cofactor for numerous bodily reactions involving the metabolism of food, transmission of nerve impulses, and synthesisis of fatty acids and proteins. "Magnesium is also great to take in the evening for a better night's sleep and managing stress levels" adds Haining.
- Protein - most people get the necessary amount of protein through their diet. Protein is necessary for building muscle mass and in a select group of people, protein supplementation is extremely beneficial. This includes athletes and those with an intense training regime. "When it comes to muscle gain and fat loss, protein is the king of nutrients. Protein has been proven to help weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing hunger and appetite" says Vogt.
1. Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E. & Rosenberg, I. H. Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition reviews 68, 439–458 (2010).
2. Greenberg, J. A., Bell, S. J., Guan, Y. & Yu, Y.-h. Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More Than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology 4, 52–59 (2011).