Supplementing can be a great option during times of stress, illness, or when you feel like you may not be getting all the nutrients you need from your diet alone. With things like environmental toxins, smoking, medications, birth control pills, soil depletion, gut imbalances, as well as processed foods and sugar coming at us in every direction, it's far too easy to become depleted nowadays.
So how do you choose? The supplement industry is saturated right now making it overwhelming for those of us who are unsure of what to be looking for. So here's a breakdown of some important points that will help you make the best choice the next time you find yourself browsing the supplement isle.
When it comes to supplements, two things are important, quality and absorption. Otherwise you may be wasting your money.
Here are the different forms of supplements that are available to you and the pros and cons of each:
Natural or whole food concentrates
These are extracted exclusively from food sources and contain a specific mix of nutrients found in nature.
Pros:They are the most recognizable to the body as they often contain other enzymes, catalysts and minerals making them easy to assimilate.
Cons:They usually contain yeast, corn, or soy making them not a great choice for those with allergies and food sensitivities. The amounts of individual nutrients are not very high and so many higher-dose natural vitamins contain a combination of natural and synthetic vitamins. There is no legal definition of "natural" so products with this label may or may not meet the criteria. Unless they specifically state "non-GMO" they may contain GMO's.
Always read the label and look for whole-food ingredients such as yeast, fish, vegetables and citrus. Look for "100 percent plant-based or animal-based". Synthetic
These are chemically made in a lab, and not extracted from foods.
Pros: It is generally accepted that they perform much the same as natural vitamins because they have the same chemical structure. However they lack the typical co-factors that are found in food and so synthetic nutrients may not be utilized as well as the natural forms found in whole-foods. For example, studies show that natural vitamin E is absorbed twice as efficiently as synthetic vitamin E.
Cons: People who have chemical sensitivities may not tolerate these very well. These are more likely to contain binders and fillers and can cause gastrointestinal distress. Organic
These are made from pesticide-and herbicide-free plant sources and naturally raised animals.These are much the same as natural supplements but contain the organic certification. Again, read the label and look for whole-food ingredients. Other things to consider when choosing supplements
Keep your diet alkaline. Acidic food such as refined grains, sugar, meat, coffee, tea, dairy, and alcohol, decreases the body's ability to absorb nutrients. So emphasize fruits and vegetables often.
Capsules are generally considered more absorbable than tablets as they are more easily broken down in the stomach.
Liquid and powdered forms are best, especially for children and elders. Just be aware that some may contain extra sugars or artificial colors to enhance the taste, so read the label.
Medications should be taken away from supplements to avoid interactions.Vitamins and minerals are best taken with food for best absorption.
B vitamins can be stimulating, so they are best taken in the A.M.
Magnesium is relaxing and can induce sleepiness, so it is best taken in the P.M.
It is best to take supplements that contain chelated forms of minerals. Chelated refers to minerals bound to another molecule to enhance absorption. These are the fumarate, glycinate, and citrate forms of minerals (example, zinc citrate).
Avoid the oxide, sulfate and carbonate forms.
Unlike water soluble vitamins which are eliminated from the body when taken in excess, the fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K are stored in the body, so use caution when taking these for long periods of time.
It's important to note that while supplementing can certainly be helpful, it should never replace a balanced whole-foods diet. Nutrients found in food is far more superior to nutrients found in a supplements.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of whats available and how to make the best choice so you can avoid wasting your money. References:
Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine, Elson M. Haas, MD
Human plasma and tissue alpha-tocopherol concentrations in response to supplementation with deuterated natural and synthetic vitamin E.
Health benefits of fruit and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals.