Let’s talk supplements….
There are 2 different sides on the supplement “debate”. One side that thinks that supplements are unnatural and unnecessary, that you should get all the vitamins and minerals you need from food and that supplements are a waste of money. If you can’t get all your nutrients from the food you eat, then you are eating wrong.
And then there is the other side which takes lots of supplements daily and will gladly take even more just incase.
Let’s start off with, supplements aren’t bad… but they aren’t always necessary either.
Supplements are just an extra, they are nothing that you specifically need and you can definitely be healthy without them. However, it is also important to realise that in today’s society the soil which we grow crops has lost alot of minerals over the years. Infact there is very little iodine and selen in the soil now a days, hence why it is recommended to use iodized salt and try to get selenium via food or supplements.
Globally, around 33% of soils are facing moderate to severe degradation. Industrial livestock production is a key factor in the decline of our soils. The need to grow huge amounts of grain to feed factory farmed animals has fuelled intensive crop production with its use of agro-chemicals and monocultures. This has eroded soil quality, undermining the ability of future generations to feed themselves) Source
Also, animals are given fortified food (example with B12 and D vitamin), so if you eat animals you are also getting “extra” supplements that way. I.e the meat/dairy might not have as many nutrients if the animals weren’t given fortified food. Even fish are fed fortified food. Of course many other foods are also enriched with different vitamins or minerals, such as cereal, milk/plant based milk, flour, margarine etc
Not to mention that many foods are fortified with D vitamin, B12, extra calcium etc because we know that many people are lacking in these vitamins and that without supplementation many would have a lack of these vitamins.
Many claim that a vegan diet is unhealthy because you most often need to take B12 and D vitamin supplements, but the fact is that there are many omnivores who have a lack of B12, D vitamin and iron… so even if they eat meat and dairy, it doesn’t mean they get all the nutrients they need.
Also it is important to realise that how we absorb nutrients varies from person to person. Some people have digestive systems that can easier absorb nutrients and they have a lower risk of getting a lack of certain vitamins or minerals. Whereas other people don’t absorb nutrients as well and need to rely on supplements to be healthy.
Often people who are very stressed or have digestive problems can have trouble absorbing nutrients.
It is also important to realise that supplements can’t replace or substitute a bad diet. I.e if you just live off of noodles and ketchup and think that you can take a daily multivitamin and be healthy, that is not going to work. Because the foods that are rich in nutrients such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds etc also have antioxidants, fibers, healthy fats and other components which play a role in our health. However supplements can be a way to help boost our intake and absorption of nutrients.
It not good to take extra dose of vitamins – just because. Instead, i would recommend that you get blood work done to see if you are low in a vitamin or mineral or if you need certain supplementation. Because taking a huge dose of certain vitamins or minerals can actually be counterproductive and in some cases dangerous. Certain vitamins can affect the absorption of other vitamins or minerals, so you do need a balance.
Also many take iron tablets in a preventative purpose, but that is not recommended. Infact i have heard of people taking both iron tablets as well as a multivitamin and they ended up with far too much iron, which is not healthy.
Generally, most people can take a multivitamin daily and be healthy and it can just help boost their nutrient intake. But taking individual vitamin/mineral supplements isn’t necessary or recommended unless you have an actual deficiency.
Usually the older you get – or if you are very sick/have intestinal/digestive issues – then you may require more supplementation as your body isn’t absorbing all the nutrients it should. Also when you are pregnant you may need to take specific pregnancy multivitamins as you need more nutrients – not to mention that before you plan to get pregnant it is important with enough folate/folic acid to avoid problems with the growth of the baby. However you can most often get enough folate by eating a wide range of dark leafy greens and vegetables!
Also, it is better to take a smaller dose daily rather than a big dose weekly. Such as with B12 – which is the only b vitamin that the body can store in the liver. With the big doses once a week, not as much is absorbed, so it is better to take a smaller dose (such as what is in a multivitamin) and take it daily, than a b12 tablet which has like 200000% of the RDI and only take it weekly.
For vegans, the only real supplement they need to take is b12, because there just isn’t enough b12 in vegan food. However, if you drink ex. a liter of fortified milk a day, then maybe you don’t need a supplement… but that is both unrealistic and more expensive.
You can read more about: Supplements as a vegan and importance of B12 HERE
Most people in the colder climate countries are recommended a D vitamin supplement during the winter/cold months, but typically the D vitamin in a multivitamin is enough. However elderly, dark skinned people or those who rarely go out in the sun during the summer may need a higher dose of vitamin D.
With iron and calcium supplements, this is something you should talk to your doctor and get blood tests done before taking high doses of. The best is of course to try to get these minerals through your diet, but some people can’t absorb them as well and then supplementation is necessary.
Another mineral many forget about is iodine – which is often found in root vegetables, sea food, algae products. However in todays food production, the soil doesn’t have as much iodine and there may not be enough in root vegetables, so using iodized salt is recommended – unless you have a thyroid problem where you need to avoid too high amounts of iodine.
Also, vegan omega 3 supplements may be necesary for vegans or those who don’t eat fish. However, you can get omega 3 from walnuts, flax seeds, flax seed oil and chia seeds. So if you consume those regularly you may be ok.
The rest of the vitamins and minerals, such as all the B vitamins, E vitamin, A vitamin, K vitamin, C vitamin etc As long as you eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains etc during the week you will get enough of those vitamins. However if you just live off of chicken and rice, then you may need to rethink your diet.
The less varied you eat. The less fruit and vegetables you eat. The less calories you eat. The higher risk of getting deficiencies. The best is to focus on eating a varied, colourful, vegetable and nutrient rich diet, and supplementation comes afterwards if necessary. There is nothing wrong with taking supplements as some people claim, but it shouldn’t be your go to, instead changing how/what you eat should be the first step.
I personally take a whole bunch of vitamins daily, but that is because my body doesn’t absorb nutrients the way other bodies do, especially not the fat soluble vitamins. Also i take a vegan EPA and DHA (i.e omega 3) supplement as i know that my diet isn’t so rich in those fatty acids. From my blood tests i have a good amount of all the vitamins and minerals, but i don’t know how it would be if i didn’t take supplements. (You can read more about what supplements (&extras) i take, HERE