Nutrition and wellness expert Renée Leonard-Stainton gives you 10 excellent reasons you should consider taking nutritional supplements to improve the quality of your health and life.
You’ve switched to eating a primarily healthy and whole-foods based diet, have reduced your stress levels, upped your exercise and started getting more sleep. Shouldn’t these lifestyle changes be enough to ensure that we’re well on the path to a healthy existence? Or could we potentially let good habits slide and just take a few magic pills to keep us in balance?
Quite simply, nutritional supplements are just what the name suggests; supplementary. We can’t make up for poor dietary habits, a negative attitude, a lack of exercise and poor sleep by taking pills - whether the pills are drugs or nutritional supplements.
However, nutritional supplementation can make a dramatic impact on our health and quality of life when done right. You may be thinking, 'well, I’m doing everything right, so why would I need to add supplements on top of that?'
Nutritional supplements are just what the name suggests: supplementary!
We can’t make up for poor dietary habits, a negative attitude, a lack of exercise and poor sleep by taking pills - whether the pills are drugs or nutritional supplements.
However, nutritional supplementation can make a dramatic impact on our health and quality of life when done right. You may be thinking, 'well, I’m doing everything right, so why would I need to add supplements on top of that?
The reality is, is that even when we’re very conscientious about eating a well balanced diet, we can often fall short of the mark nutritionally. Yes, technically, a whole foods diet should provide us with all the goodies that we need for optimum health, but unfortunately, there’s a whole host of modern day environmental and lifestyle issues that make it much harder than it was for our ancestors.
In essence, our fishing and farming methods have changed drastically. In the past, harvests fully embodied the vital nutrients of the soil and sea, and those nutrients nourished people fully. With the combination of modern intensive farming methods, our modern lifestyles and the urban environments we live in, there are many reasons it may be necessary to consider adding supplements to your health regime.
Many nutritional supplements have been proven to prevent or aid in the treatment of health conditions like high cholesterol, arthritis, birth defects, and cancer. Let’s take a look at what specifically has changed and how this influences our need to take supplements.
1. Soil depletion reduces the nutrient content of crops
In many areas of the world, land has been intensively farmed without allowing nutrients to naturally replenish in the soil. Some areas with low quality soil are also being farmed where plants might not have normally grown well too.
2. Hybrid crops can provide lower nutrient food
Hybrid crops are often used, even on organic farms. They yield more food per acre, but the crops often have much lower nutrient content.
3. Modern fertilisers don’t supply enough trace elements
Back in the day, manures were used extensively for fertiliser. Today, superphosphate fertilisers have largely replaced manure. These contain nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, but are deficient in many other nutrients naturally contained in manure.
4. Pesticides and herbicides damage soil microorganisms and reduce the nutrition of the crops
Soil microorganisms are needed to make minerals and other nutrients available to plants, so hence when these are lacking in the soil, the resulting food is often much lower in nutrient content. Also, our bodies require extra nutrients to process pesticide residues that remain inside the foods.
5. Long-distance transportation of many foods diminishes their nutrition
As soon as food is harvested, the levels of certain nutrients begin to diminish. It can be weeks between when the food was picked, transported, packed, stored, and then finally eaten.
6. Food processing often drastically reduces nutrient content
For example, the refining of wheat to make white flour removes approximately 80% of its magnesium, 70-80% of its zinc, 87% of its chromium, 88% of its manganese, and 50% of its cobalt. Similarly, polishing rice removes about 75% of its zinc and chromium.
7. Food additives can further deplete nutrients
Artificial flavours, colours, stabilisers and preservatives are added to a large proportion of foods available. While some are harmless and may even increase the quality of food by preserving it, many are toxic and can deplete the body of nutrients.
8. Weak digestion and poor eating habits impair the absorption of nutrients
Digestion issues are on of the most common health complaints today. People with impaired digestion often don’t absorb nutrients sufficiently, which further increases nutritional needs. This is why when trying to balance nutritional deficiencies, the initial focus should always be on correcting gut health and supporting digestion.
Being under a lot of stress can deplete many nutrients including calcium, magnesium and zinc. Among other implications, stress reduces digestive strength. This, in turn, reduces nutrient absorption and utilisation even further. It’s not always external factors that contribute to deficiencies!
10. Unhealthy lifestyle habits
If you drink alcohol, smoke heavily, live in a polluted city or are pregnant, premenstrual, on the pill, or simply just in a stressful patch, your nutritional needs can increase greatly. There are foods and habits that can strip the body of nutrients that we should be mindful of, and we should try and limit (if possible):
Smoking and drinking alcohol: Depletes the quantity of vitamin C in the body. Smokers generally need twice as much vitamin C intake as non-smokers to maintain comparable blood levels.
- Drinking coffee: A cup of coffee can cut your iron absorption to 1/3 of normal.
- Taking pharmaceutical drugs - Aspirin increases the need for vitamin C. Paracetamol increases the need for antioxidants, like vitamins C, and E and selenium. Antibiotics increase the need for B vitamins and probiotics (beneficial bacteria) Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and birth control pills increase the need for vitamins B6, B12, folic acid and zinc.
Minute but mighty, micro-nutrients (minerals and vitamins) play a BIG part in good health. The amount of minerals and vitamins we need may be small compared to macro-nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates and fats, but their influence on our wellbeing is huge. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to supplement our diets to get health enhancing amounts of vitamins and minerals, but the nature of modern living is such that most often this is not the case nowadays.
Minerals and Vitamins play a BIG part in good health. Dietary Supplements help to provide sufficient levels.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to supplement our diets but modern living is such that most often this is not the case nowadays.
Of course, you should always consult a qualified health professional first to avoid any drug-nutrient conflicts and avoid supplements with sweeteners, colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or fillers. Children should always take supplement formulas designed for their age and needs too.
Note: This article was first published by Renée Leonard Stainton under "10 Excellent Reasons To Take Nutritional Supplements" in OpenColleges on March 1, 2016.