These days, supplements are a totally legitimate and arguably essential part of a nourishing diet. They can help to fill in the gaps left by our modern diet and the nutrient depletion of our soil. However, it’s important to remember that this is their only purpose. “Supplement” is defined as “something that completes or makes an addition,” and this is what their role should be in our diet. We can get into trouble with supplements when we begin to view them as the essential nutritional foundation of our diet, and the overwhelming amount of information out there doesn’t help at all. So, here are some of my top tips for how to be smart with your supplements.
Food is the foundation. The truth is that the best sources of vitamins and minerals our there are the nutrients in whole, organic, local foods. This means that, first and foremost, do your best to eat a balanced diet. If adding supplements to your nutrition routine feels like the right move for you, get to know what nutrients you are already getting from the food you eat, and what you might be lacking. This can help to clue you in to what supplements you might want to add in.
Don’t be rigid. This might be controversial, but you don’t actually need to take your supplements every day. It can be good to experiment with skipping some supplements some days to see how you feel. This can help you understand how they actually work for your body and what purpose they serve. This is also a good idea if you have any fears about becoming “dependent” on supplements, though this generally isn’t an issue.
Be intuitive. Since supplements are designed to complement our existing diet, the ones we take on a given day can be informed by what we’ve eaten and how we feel. For example, if you are feeling a cold coming on, you might want to up your immune-boosting supplements. If you had a piece of wild-caught salmon for lunch, you might not need your second dose of fish oil that day. If you’ve had a stressful day and your stomach is feeling it, you’ll probably want to make sure you get your probiotics in. Understanding the relationship between what we eat and do in a day, and the supplements we need can help us be more intuitive when choosing supplements.
Get the most out of what you take. When you do take supplements, there are some basic rules you can follow to help your body absorb them as effectively as possible.
- Take them with, or without food based on how the supplement is best absorbed in your body. Some supplements are absorbed better with food and some are more effective on an empty stomach.
- Check for interactions and space out certain vitamins (i.e. vitamin B12 and vitamin C can impact each other’s absorption). It’s worth noting that most supplements are safe to take together, but may not be as effective.
- Make sure to take fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) with a meal, and one with at least a bit of healthy fat to help your body absorb them.
- Know how each supplement affects you – some might be activating and are therefore better taken in the morning, while others can be relaxing and more beneficial in the evening.
Check for quality. Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so manufacturers aren’t always honest with what they put on the label. It’s always a good idea to check your supplements using a third-party source like ConsumerLab. It’s also usually a safe bet to buy from reputable brands like Pure Encapsulations or health food stores like Whole Foods as they often have high standards for what they put on their shelves.
The world of supplements is a complicated one, and that’s why it’s always a good idea to have a chat with your health professional. The particular balance of what supplements to take and how to take them can be different for each individual. If you are looking for that health professional, we’d love to chat with you! You can book a free 15min phone call with us HERE to see if we are e good fit for your needs.