Few things in life can impact health more profoundly than nutrition. What we consume is converted into the very cells of our body. You’ve heard it 1,000 times, but we literally “are what we eat!”
Dietitians and doctors agree that it's best to get the nutrition we need from whole foods, by consuming 3 to 6 sensible meals per day containing a variety of food types to optimally fuel our bodies. Unfortunately, that can sometimes be really challenging.
It is estimated that more than 9 in 10 individuals fails to consume the recommended 5 to 9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Likewise, most Americans do not eat sufficient amounts of omega 3 fatty acids from fish or any other foodstuff. In short, eating the right nutrients in the right quantities takes work, knowledge, money and time.
Adding to the challenge, mass market food sources and factory farms pump out ever more processed, low quality ingredients; and the pace of daily life keeps getting faster. Food fortification has helped, but it’s a controversial solution that in practice can only tackle narrow needs. As a result of it all, we often don’t get enough of certain essential micronutrients from the foods we eat.
Enter dietary supplements. For many, they play a role by filling that gap, ensuring optimal, steady intake of these necessary nutrients and providing a sort of “nutritional insurance” against unwanted deficiencies. In certain cases, targeted supplementation can also support specific areas of human health including physical and mental performance, vision, and joint flexibility, to name a few.
But, we need to be mindful of what supplements are; their role; and how to use them appropriately. Supplementation isn’t a cure-all, or substitute for proper diet, and can even cause problems when done improperly!
When to Supplement
When you aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals you need from your daily diet. For example, we're supposed to eat 2 to 5 servings of fatty fish/week to maintain the right balance of fatty acids. Do you? Not enough omega-3 fatty acids from fish can lead to excessive inflammation and decreased heart and brain health. The American Heart Association, for example, recommends people consume at least 500 to 1000 mg of omega-3 fats per day, whether from fish or fish oil supplements.
Many of us constantly wear sunscreen to protect against risks of sun exposure. Unfortunately, that can cause suboptimal levels of Vitamin D in the body, so many people supplement with a multi-vitamin containing high levels of D3.
Most Americans, particularly women of all ages, fail to consume sufficient calcium from the diet. Daily intake of a calcium-containing supplement is estimated to result in a savings of approximately $16.1 billion in healthcare costs over a 5 year period.
We are constantly exposed to oxidative stress, be it from high-altitude living, frequent travel, physical activity, stress and other natural factors. Many people supplement with anti-oxidants to ensure the body’s natural defenses against these forces are at their best.
If recommended by a physician, or to address a specific concern where a concentrated and targeted dose of nutrients may play a supportive role (e.g. clinical nutrition). For example, many eye doctors now refer patients to eye supplements to ward against the effects of intense sunlight and prevent age-related macular degeneration. High doses of vitamin B3 (niacin) under the care of a doctor can play a role in the reduction and maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.
When you are performance-focused and looking to replace specific nutrients spent from training, or reinforce your body’s nutrient levels for a specific need. If you are a high intensity athlete, there are specific considerations for your peak health. Consider a supplement that supports immune health, to help manage your body’s normal inflammatory response, strengthen joints and cartilage.
While there are many ingredients marketed for this purpose, ones that have been studied and shown effective for this purpose are:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids / Fish Oil
Avocado & Soy Unsaponifiables
MSM, especially in conjunction with Glucosamine
Ginseng has been studied to support balanced energy levels, and may provide a healthy “lift” if you are feeling slow in the afternoons.
Sufficient protein, anti-oxidant and liquid intake support the body to rebuild muscle fibers, process lactic acid and repair tissues during and after intense workouts.