Getting all the nutrients your body needs from food alone can be challenging, especially because the soils are becoming more and more depleted of nutrients and minerals. Not to mention nutrients can be difficult to absorb properly if you have gut dysbiosis, if you’re not digesting food optimally, if you have parasites, or if you’re struggling with a disease that increases your need for particular nutrients. Naturally, many turn to dietary supplements.
I’ve always been cautious of dietary supplements that aren’t from a food source and have been manufactured as a standalone vitamin or mineral. So I decided to compile this research on 3 common supplements that many of my clients ask me about. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will discuss other common supplements.
First off, how are these supplements made? What’s really going on in those supplement bottles?
We don’t hear much discussion around synthetic supplements. Even as a nutritionist, I used to assume the nutrients in ‘high-end’ brands of supplements were extracted from a natural source. However, when I researched more, I realised that this wasn’t the case. There’s a big difference between nutrients from whole foods and the nutrient ingredients used in the vast majority of supplements. After all, supplements are a billion- dollar industry aimed at maximising profit.
These isolated supplements are never found in nature alone, they are always found in nature with other macro and micro nutrients. They can be found in organ meats, nuts, seeds, muscle meat and vegetables in varying amounts. The body has millions of biochemical reactions happening every second of the day, thousands of nutrients are needed in order for these reactions to be successful. The wisdom and innate intelligence of the body knows how to do every single one of them. The single most important thing for these biochemical reactions is the by-product of real foods which allows them all to operate optimally. One nutrient all by itself does not cut it. However a single nutrient as a ‘supplement’ is given priority by a biochemist and that single nutrient becomes a best seller. You can read more about why supplements are not what you think they are here.
3 Common Dietary Supplements My Clients Ask Me About
1. Synthethic Vitamin C
Firstly, Vitamin C is never found in nature isolated as ascorbic acid. Laboratory made isolated ascorbic acid can never have the intelligence of nature based Vitamin C because foods are balanced with a number of other vitamins and minerals. A majority of Vitamin C supplements are ascorbic acid and ascorbate this is not actually Vitamin C, it represents the outer ring that serves as a shell for the entire Vitamin C complex. This complex includes rutin, bioflavonoids, factor K, factor J, factor P, tyrosinase and ascorbinogen. When you take synthetic ascorbic acid your body needs to gather all the other components within your cells to make it work. If they aren’t available the ascorbic acid is eliminated through the urine.
Foods are loaded with lots of nutrients but never in the large quantities we often see today in synthetic supplements. You’d be hard-pressed to find a food with 1,000 mg of ascorbic acid, let alone the 5,000 mg–10,000mg doses often sold at stores or from health care professionals. Lets consider some naturally rich Vitamin C foods as an alternative.
Naturally Rich Vitamin C Foods
There are many foods that are naturally rich in vitamin C, these include;
- Kakadu plum
- Camu camu berry
- Kiwi fruit
- Acerola cherry
- Citrus fruits
If you want to consume a non-chemical based, natural vitamin C for you and your family, then I would recommend you consume Camu Camu powder! It is one of the richest sources of nature-based vitamin C available and based on scientific research, it’s more powerful than isolated, synthetically made Vitamin C. Camu Camu contains approximately 460 times more Vitamin C than an orange, making it an incredible immune boosting, natural food supplement. It comes in a powder form, so it can easily be added to smoothies, slices, bliss balls and gummies.
2. Synthetic Calcium
Most of the calcium in supplements isn’t derived from natural sources it’s often Calcium Carbonate. This is the least absorbed form of calcium on the market. Your body literally can’t utilise the isolated calcium without certain co-factors being present. As a result, what isn’t absorbed often runs free in the blood system and is thought to contribute to calcified arteriosclerosis as well as lipping and spurring on bones which is why calcium supplements are shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
“Healthy bone formation also depends on vitamin D and vitamin K2, both of which regulate calcium metabolism. There are also other minerals besides calcium involved in supporting bone health, such as silica and magnesium. If you have adequate levels of these nutrients, and regularly perform weight-bearing exercise, there is no need for calcium supplementation, which will likely do more harm than good”. You can read more information about Calcium Supplements – why you should think twice – by Chris Kresser
Naturally Rich Calcium Foods
Women over 50 are advised to get 1,200 mg of calcium a day and women under 50 are advised to get 1,000 mg a day. Men are advised to get 1,000 mg a day although men over 70 are supposed to get 1,200 mg. If you’re concerned about maintaining healthy bones, you can get adequate calcium intake from foods such as;
- Dairy products
- Sesame seeds
- Beans and lentils
- Sardines and salmon with the bones
- Bok choy
- Chia seeds
- Dairy kefir
- Dark leafy greens
- Bone broth
Although every mineral and vitamin could be considered a cofactor of calcium, the following are particularly important:
- Magnesium works alongside calcium, and it’s needed for heart health and proper muscle function.. Magnesium rich foods include, cacao, spinach, nuts and seeds, artichokes, dates, salmon, avocado and figs. Epsom salt baths are also a great way to absorb magnesium into the body.
- Vitamin D acts like a steroid hormone in the body and helps the body utilise calcium. I recommend my clients to get 15-20 minutes of sunshine every day, as this is the easiest way for you to naturally top up your Vitamin D stores within your body. You can also consume Vitamin D rich foods:- fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, cod liver oil, egg yolk, beef liver and cheese. Mushrooms, when exposed to ultraviolet light have the capacity to produce Vitamin D too.
- Vitamin K2 activates the protein osteocalcin found in bones, which allows the bones to “hold on” to calcium. It also protects the arteries from calcium deposits. Vitamin K2 rich foods include; egg yolk, grass-fed butter and ghee, liver and aged cheeses.
3. Fish Oil
Fish oils now have more additives and fillers than a ‘pre-made box of chocolates’. Some of them include; flavours, colours, artificial sweeteners, ultra-refining processes, glycerine, gelatin, man-made antioxidants, refined soybean oil, sorbitol, PCB’s and mercury. Even children’s fish oil supplements contain numerous flavours, colours, food acids, as well as ‘natural’ colours and flavours. Both natural and artificial flavours are made in chemical laboratories. These flavours can contain up to48 chemicals ingredients including solvents and diacetyl.
The Questions You Need To Ask When You Buy Fish Oil
- Is the species of fish farmed or wild caught?
- What hemisphere and ocean did it come from?
- What’s the extraction method and how is it processed?
- Has the extraction oil been tested for heavy metals such as mercury, or PCB’s or oxidation – what were the results?
- Are there any added ingredients not listed on the label?
- Is the fish oil in a liquid oil or capsule?
- What are the ingredients of the capsule?
- Do they contain sodium lauryl sulphate and propylene glycol which have been known to cause kidney and liver damage?
- How old is the fish oil?
It’s difficult to make an informed decision as not all of the gel capsules are made the same, and the full list of ingredients are not always disclosed on the packaging. Another concern with the fish oil industry is the waste of fish. Did you know that it takes approximately 5kg of fish to make 1kg of fish oil. Fish oil is expensive, so other oils are added to the fish oil, such as soy bean, to bring the price down. So if you choose to consume inexpensive fish oil capsules then you’re probably wasting your money and exposing your body to toxins that may be in the gel capsules or within the oil itself.
At this point you may be wondering what you can do about the contaminants and pollutants in the fish you consume. If you consume fresh herbs like coriander, thyme, basil and rosemary, as well as salad greens, kale, spinach, broccoli and/ or asparagus with your fish then the power of these foods will aid to draw out the toxins. Spirulina and chlorella are also fantastic to help pull out heavy metals from the body.
You can read more information about farmed fish, overcrowding, contaminants and what they’re fed in Cyndi’s blog called ‘Somethings Fishy’.
Fish Oil Alternatives
Cyndi often recommends the ‘Melrose’ brand of fish oil and I recommend a good quality cod liver oil. However if you’re vegan, vegetarian or even just concerned about the sustainability issues of the fish oil industry, Inca Inchi Oil is a great alternative. It’s a vegan, vegetarian, sustainable ethical plant based alternative to fish oil with the perfect balance of Omega 3-6-9. It can be added to smoothies, salads, pesto, mayonnaise, as well as used on the skin. You can read more about the benefits of Inca Inchi Oil here.
- All vitamins require other enzymes, co-factors, co-enzymes, minerals and other macro nutrients for your body to receive their full benefit
- Always read the ingredients list of supplements
- If you’re unsure, always ask questions, as supplement companies don’t have to disclose all the ingredients on the label
- Look for real foods rich in specific vitamins or minerals before choosing synthetic ones
Disclaimer– Just as medicine has its place in emergency health situations, so do synthetic vitamins and minerals so I am not totally against these products. What I am against is the indiscriminate use of medicines and synthetic supplements when food can often be a far cheaper and healthier option.
Practicing Nutritionist at Changing Habits
I am a qualified holistic Nutritionist and a certified Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) practitioner. No matter your chosen path or where you are in your own health journey, my heartfelt mission is to help as many people as possible to achieve and sustain vibrant health and wellness by inspiring you to get creative with real, whole, fresh foods and to see them in a brand new light! I’m an avid believer in the value of home cooking, utilising the healing power of foods, extremely passionate about gut health, eating intuitively and the importance of listening to your own body.