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When Diet Isn’t Enough
As a former collegiate athlete, I’ve always tracked my nutritional intake.
Back in the day, I would be running 80-90 miles per week and in turn, I was eating almost 4000 calories a day.
However, the problem that I quickly found is that even with all of this food, my diet would be lacking certain things.
I developed chronic Achilles tendonitis my sophomore year of college, dealt with iron deficiency anemia later that year in the fall, and had multiple stress reactions throughout my career as an athlete.
While these things aren’t uncommon in the life of a distance runner, my studies in nutrition and sports science showed that many of these problems could have been nutritionally driven.
Our connective tissues, such as tendons and bones, are properly maintained by keeping a healthy dose of vitamin D and calcium in our diet.
Iron-deficiency anemia is a bit more straightforward; I needed to get more iron in my diet.
Even with my detailed and focused diet, I was still deficient in various nutrients that my body needed.
That was where supplements came in.
Daily supplements are the additions to our intake to make up directly for what our diets alone cannot.
In a perfect world, all of our food would provide the nutritional value we need for proper functioning.
However, as we all know quite well, the world we live in is far from perfect, and the food we eat follows the same trend.
Even with all of the time in the world and as much money as someone could have to get all the perfect foods, there will almost unequivocally be gaps in our diet.
Daily supplements fill in those gaps, all depending on what we are missing in our diets.
Our diet and normal intake dictate what supplements are necessary and what supplements are not.
So, where do we start?
Finding the Gaps
The best way to begin your supplemental journey is to find where supplements will do you the most good.
This takes a little bit of work, but not near as much as you would think.
The best way to begin is by taking a food journal for around a week.
Then you can plug the results into a dietary analysis website like MyPlate.gov or any number of other apps.
This will give you an accurate representation of the nutrition of your daily intake, and from this, you will be able to find the gaps in your diet.
These gaps can then be filled with daily supplements.
Did You Know
Some of the most common supplemental deficiencies in the United States include iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and magnesium.
All of these can be significantly aided by adding daily supplements to our diets.
A meta-analysis by Low et al. showed a significant reduction in risk and prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia in women when supplemented with iron.
Many other deficiencies are positively affected by daily supplementation.
For most people, it’s not that we don’t eat enough, and for some, it’s not even that we eat the “wrong” foods.
The nutritional value of our average everyday foods has declined over time to the point that now the only way to truly get the proper nutrients via our diet alone is almost impossible, if not invariably expensive.
The gaps aren’t always in our “laziness” or indulgences in our diets.
This leads more often to calorie or macronutrient imbalances.
You could have a perfectly healthy diet, eat the proper amount of calories, proteins, fat, and carbohydrates and still miss out on various nutrients because of the way that foods are processed and in turn lose much of their normal nutrients.
2 Facts are True When it Comes to Supplements
1) Supplements are important to fill in the gaps where even a healthy diet may fall short.
2) It is important to find out where those gaps are in our diets.
Just like lack of nutrients can cause problems, there are some nutrients that an oversupply to our body can cause problems as well.
By finding out where our gaps are, we can fill them with necessary nutrients without risking adding something that we don’t need.
How do I Know What Good Daily Supplements Are?
The use of daily supplements in our lives has exploded in the last couple of decades.
You can’t watch the football game or get through your Criminal Minds episode without seeing multiple ads for some kind of Spam-X or Vitamin GWITX (made-up supplements by the way – you don’t need to go Google those) trying to fix your bones, health, gut, or brain.
Not only is the market oversaturated with supplements, but there is also no regulatory system in place to make sure that what we are taking is what is in the actual pill.
The FDA does “regulate” dietary supplements, but the standards are significantly more lax than they are for medicinal drugs or food.
For example, when you grab your cereal from the grocery store tomorrow, you will see a white label detailing all the nutritional information and listing every ingredient in the product.
This is required by law for every food product on the market, and if there is anything omitted from the white label in the food, or if something is put on the label that is not in the food, the company could face severe legal action.
The same is true for medicines.
The same cannot be said, however, for dietary supplements.
According to the FDA
Specifically the “Dietary Supplements” section of the FDA’s website, the only thing that dietary supplements are legally responsible for are mismarketing or misrepresentation of the branding of their product.
What this means in practice is that supplement companies cannot market a new product as a “cure for cancer” unless there is obvious and scientific research backing that claim.
However, if they can prove in any way that a supplement lowers the “risk” for cancer, they can brand their supplement accordingly.
This does not, however, carry over to the omittance of ingredients.
Dietary supplements are not even required to have a “white label” detailing their contents.
So how do we sift through this sea of pills, powders, capsules, softgels, etc. to figure out which supplements are good and which are not?
Well there are actually a few good tips when looking for quality supplements:
Simple is (almost always) better.
If you are finding multivitamins with solid basic nutrients, you don’t really need to go searching for any extra “Herbalist Delight” or “Essence of Nightshade” to supplement your diet.
The basic vitamins and nutrients are what our body needs to function properly.
White Labels are a likely indication of a better supplement!
Did You Know
It’s not legally necessary for supplement companies to tell anyone what is in their supplement.
For that reason, those companies who are willing to put a White Label on their product are taking responsibility for the ingredients that they put into their product.
They are saying that if a layperson wants to go and test their supplement to “check” and make sure that what they say is in it is there, they are more than welcome to.
While not a guarantee that the Label is accurate, this attitude is much more indicative of a company than those that do not label their products.
Powders are better than capsules.
Which are better than soft gels, which are better than hard packed pills.
Aside from the actual ingredients, the ability of the body to absorb a supplement is the most critical aspect.
Powders and capsules are easily digested and absorbed into the walls of the small intestines, which allows them to be distributed throughout the body more effectively than more traditional hard-packed pills.
Those pills are often not broken down in time to be absorbed and are very commonly excreted, almost unaffected by the digestive process.
Take Ownership of Your Health
No one but you can take full responsibility for your health!
You can do it!
Taking just a short amount of time to find out what gaps you have in your diet, researching what supplements are more effective than others, and making an effort to fill those gaps with quality supplements will not only prolong your life but will also dramatically improve the QUALITY of each day of that life.