In a perfect world, we would be able to get all of our vitamins and minerals from the food we eat. We would be eating a diet rich in vegetables, which were grown in nutrient dense soil, and we would eat high quality proteins like grass fed beef, pastured eggs and wild fish. We would also be eating a wide variety of foods, including nuts, seeds, fats, organ meats, etc.
Our ancestors ate around 300 or so different types of foods and they rotated seasonally. Today, we eat about 17-20 (and for some people, that’s even a generous estimate). Give it a try- write down all of the foods you eat on a regular basis. It is probably a much smaller variety than you even realize.
We also have a lot more stressors in life today. While our ancestors had to contend with running from a wild animal on an occasional basis, we are bombarded with stressors from the moment we wake up to a blaring alarm clock to the moment we drive home in stop and go traffic. We breathe in fumes, use products on our skin that tax our liver, and eat while standing up or in the car on the way to our next appointment.
All of this leads to why I really believe our bodies do need some extra support, and I think using a few supplements can be very impactful. These are some that I almost always recommend to clients.
- Betaine HCL- This is probably my favorite supplement. I would recommend working with a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, or a holistic/ functional MD, to better understand how to use HCL, but it can have a huge impact on your overall digestion. Betaine HCL provides hydrochloric acid which is necessary for digestion of your food. If you want to read more about why acid is actually IMPERATIVE for digestion, read my blog post here. If you are dealing with acid reflux, you almost certainly need hydrochloric acid because you are actually producing too little stomach acid versus producing too much. By taking acid suppressors (like Tums) you will get rid of the symptom of the acid reflux, but it won’t help out your digestion at all. If you are not digesting your food, you will not gain any of the benefits from it. When clients say they are eating a good diet, but still don’t feel well, digestion is always the first place I look.
- Vitamin D– Our bodies make Vitamin D from the sun but we also need to have all of the correct “cofactors” in place in order to properly absorb it. One of these cofactors is having enough cholesterol (so this is why people on low fat diets are usually deficient!) However when you live in a place that’s not warm most of the year (sigh, New England) and you work inside most days of the week, it can be difficult to get enough of this vitamin. Vitamin D is a “feel good” vitamin that most people know as helping you through the “winter blues”, but it also does so much more. Vitamin D helps regulate calcium metabolism and is important in protecting against osteoporosis and bone injury. You should get your levels tested in order to see just how deficient you are and how much you will need.
- Probiotics- Unless you are eating fermented foods on a regular basis, you probably need a probiotic in order to provide some good bacteria to your gut. Probiotics can be incredibly beneficial as they ease bloating, constipation, etc. They also make sure that you have enough good bacteria in your gut which is hopefully more plentiful than the “bad” bacteria.
- Magnesium- Magnesium is incredibly important for us and helps with so many processes in our body, many of which contribute to energy production and cardiovascular function. Magnesium is the counterbalance to calcium- calcium constricts the muscles, while magnesium relaxes them. You may realize you have a magnesium deficiency if you get muscle cramps, but it can also show up as being anxious or too stressed. We used to get high quality magnesium from our soil, but our soil has now been shown to be incredibly nutrient deficient. Therefore we can no longer rely on our vegetables and fruits to contain enough of this beneficial nutrient.
- Magnesium deficiency can also show up as intense cravings for chocolate. At certain times of the month (aka around the time of our monthly cycle for ladies), our bodies crave magnesium- and thus, we end up craving chocolate. Eating chocolate isn’t necessarily a bad thing (especially if it’s a few squares of high quality dark chocolate that’s 85% or above), but these cravings can really start to take over and we end up eating a lot of sugar with our chocolate (think- chocolate ice cream). This ends up depleting magnesium even more and starts the cycle all over again.
- B Complex- B vitamins are not stored very well in the body. This means that we need B vitamins daily through either diet or supplementation. B vitamins are easily depleted if your diet includes high amounts of refined and processed food, sugar or alcohol. When the amount of B taken exceeds our body’s needs, the excess is excreted through the urine (which is why you may see your pee turn bright yellow!) B vitamins provide the catalytic spark for the human body and are important in our metabolism and also the functioning of our nervous system- they can bring either relaxation to those who are stressed or energy to those who are fatigued. B vitamins are particularly important if you are a vegetarian or a vegan since B12 can only be found in animal foods.
These are just a few key supplements I think are beneficial, but because each person is unique your needs might be different! For example if you have been on a low fat diet for a number of years and then start adding fats back in, your liver and gallbladder probably need support and so you would want to take a supplement that helps you create bile (which allows you to properly break down fat). Or if you are incredibly stressed out and believe you may have adrenal fatigue, you might want to look into adaptogens. Everyone has different needs but this is a good list to get started!
Let me know your thoughts and what supplements have helped you!