Vitamins – Expensive Placebos Or Affordable Insurance?

Nutrition / Research / September 12, 2012

For as long as I can remember, most people I’ve met are divided in 2 camps on the subject of vitamin supplements.

One side is certain that vitamins are unnecessary, and are modern day placebos filled with snake oil. You’ll recognize them because they tend to say things like “ya can’t live forever!” and they all know someone who lived to 100 on a diet of moonshine, jerky and tobacco.

The other is the ‘health nuts’ who are always popping the latest capsule, tincture or potion, all in the name of longevity. While not in their oxygen chamber, you’ll spot them filling recycled bags at Whole (Paycheck) Foods with bottles of supplements meant to cure ailments you’ve never heard of.
‘Heal thyself’ is their mantra, and will go near a hospital only under court order.

Which side is right? Well, as is often the case, the middle ground is where you’ll find the wizened elders. Let me explain…

It’s Not The Good Old Days

Your grandfather didn’t have to take supplements, and was likely confounded by the vitamin explosion in the last 30 years. Because all the foods he ate were farmed the traditional way, he didn’t have vitamin and mineral deficiencies. And that’s why he had zest and energy that made you wonder and marvel.

Consider 50 years ago vegetables were farmed as they have been for millennia- in soil that was mineral rich – because it was purposely left fallow for stretches to allow it to replenish. Fertilizers were used sparingly, if at all, because the ground provided the nutrients to the plants.

This is not misty eyed romanticism either. Countless lab tests have proven that vitamin and mineral levels in many of the most common veggies (broccoli and tomatoes, for example) are 50% less than they were in the 1950s! (1) And similar shocking numbers apply to the other food groups like meat and dairy because, as you likely guessed, cows are also eating vitamin depleted foods.

This means that you have to eat twice the amount that was consumed a couple generations ago. A time, money and calorie expensive endeavor!

“But I Eat Organic”

Sure you can try to eat all organic foods, and that will help your cause as they are more vitamin rich. If you’re one of the few who can afford to shop that way, and you never deviate, then vitamins may not be for you.

However, you’re probably more like the majority- you try to watch your diet, and buy organic when you can. But out of necessity and to save time you also shop at the big supermarkets and grab not what’s special, but what’s on special. Add to this how we all sometimes eat on the fly; at restaurants; while travelling and get togethers etc. and you see how dietary compromises are so easily made.

Vitamin deficiency is statistically so common in the western world, and responsible for a whole host of health issues, that is seems a no brainer to supplement. Yet many will fall into a false sense of security and complacency, because they feel, and look no worse than their (also vitamin deficient) neighbours.

But don’t use the chronically fatigued, undernourished average American as a benchmark. Keep our robust forefathers at the forefront as a gage for the energy and health you can have late into life- if your body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs.

If you’re one who thinks they’re unnecessary, or expensive placebos, I hope the above paragraphs help you see that they are actually very affordable insurance.

All through my teens and adult life I have spent around $1-2 per day on supplements to make sure my body (and mind) is firing on all cylinders.

Unless you’re a card carrying Luddite, you no doubt spend a whole lot more than $1-2 per day on more trivial purchases – heck, $1-2 barely gets you in the door of a Starbucks!

And supplementing gives the same kind of peace of mind as when you’ve fill up your tank on a long road trip…as opposed to that nagging feeling you get when, for some reason, you ignore that last available gas station and say ‘uh I think we can make it to the next one!’

It’s true that the $1-2 per day might be a complete waste (literally, as your body excretes what’s not needed) if you are the rare person with the unwavering stellar, organic diet. But chances are your body is deficient, so it will be much more productive and energetic from well chosen supplements- and will pay handsome returns on your $1-2 investment.

But you must shop carefully- because vitamins are huge business, and marketers are trained to part you with your money. This is most effectively done by scaring you into buying (by hanging the threat of illness and disease over you) or by promises too good to refuse (usually about looking and feeling young forever).

OK, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if you take all the products companies try to sell you, you’d go broke- if you didn’t overdose first. So how to decide amongst all the choice out there?

Find a brand you can trust, that manufactures with organic ingredients if possible, in GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) facilities. With thousands of products out there to navigate I will give you some recommendations on supplements that have no downsides -and are backed with ample science:

1. Calciums derived from multi algaes

None of the traditional rock based calciums actually increase your bone density and fight off osteoporosis- the ‘silent killer’. Certain marine algaes are exceptionally high in calcium (30%) as well as mandatory trace minerals, and are proven to increase bone density.

2. Vitamin D

Plenty of data has suggested that the majority of Americans have less than optimal levels of Vitamin D. That’s not surprising – the nutrient is tough to get from food (though canned salmon, milk, and sardines are all good sources), and the only other method is sunlight.

If you live north of Atlanta, the sun isn’t strong enough from November to March for you to make sufficient amounts. And even when you are outside, most people are covered with clothing and/or suntan lotion. Most experts agree that supplementing with at least 1000 IU’s daily is a good start.

And this is likely the cheapest supplement on this list!

3. “Green” Formulas

While not a replacement for fruits and vegetables, Greens products (fruit and vegetable concentrates) are a good “insurance” policy if your produce consumption is lower than idea.

Less than 6% of men and 9% of women aged 5 to 34 consume the recommended minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. (2) Greens can help fill this void. They’re especially handy when real produce is hard to come by, like during times of heavy travel.

4. Whey Protien

Whey protein is not an essential supplement, but it is a good one to have on hand. Because whey is high in branched-chain amino acids, it can aid recovery from exercise. More importantly, whey protein is a quick, convenient source of quality calories. Add some to fruit or a scoop of nut butter and you’ve got a perfect on-the-go meal that takes 60 seconds to make.

5. Fish Oil

Fish oil is known for delivering omega-3’s, essential fats that our bodies can’t make on our own so must get them from our diet. Even if you eat fish one to two times per week, you won’t be taking in enough omega-3’s to meet your body’s needs.

By taking a high quality fish oil, you can reduce triglycerides, lower your risk of heart disease, improve recovery from exercise, protect your brain health, and potentially lower your risk of diabetes. Omega-3’s may even help with losing body fat.

When choosing a supplement, pay seek brands that deliver a minimum of 2 g EPA and DHA (two of the three acids in omega-3s) daily.

6. Probiotics

Here’s the deal — there are millions of different strains of bacteria in our guts. Some are good. Others, not so much. The bacteria in your gut can influence your overall health, digestion and immune system.

Probiotics can help replenish and nourish your internal supply of good bacteria, sometimes leading to less gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. Aim for a product from a trusted brand that lists at least 3 billion organisms per serving. Keep it refrigerated after opening to protect those organisms.

[ Editor : Unless you are one of the 6% who have an impeccable diet, supplementing with vitamins & minerals is probably a smart bet to insure your health. AlgaeCal Plus includes Vitamin D-3 among other things – so you can scratch 2 off the list above…]



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Healthy Wisdom

“Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.” ~ Josh Billings

Author: Monica Lam-Feist, BS

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