In an ideal world, we would not need to take supplements. The food we eat would be balanced and nutritious, providing our body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs. Unfortunately, many modern agricultural and food manufacturing processes mean that the food we eat may not contain all the natural vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes our bodies require. Storage and cooking methods can further reduce the nutrients our food contains; the longer fruit and vegetables are stored, the less vitamins they are likely to contain. Similarly, vitamin loss occurs when vegetables are boiled or microwaved. So, even if we are eating a healthy diet, varied and balanced diet, it is possible that we still may not be getting all the nutrients we need.
So where should we start?
It’s a good idea to take a high quality multivitamin to help fill in any gaps in your nutrition. Choose a multivitamin that offers 100% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of most of the essential vitamins and minerals – although it wont have the full daily value of calcium as this is too large a quantity for a multivitamin. Also take care with vitamin A – exceeding 100% of the RDA can cause problems with the liver and nervous system, it can interfere with vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption (see the importance of vitamin D below and can lead to birth defects. Choose a brand that has part of all of its vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene which is not dangerous. Other signs of a good multivitamin are to check that the calcium says “-ate” at the end for example, calcium citrate or ascorbate. Solgar is a good brand and there are plenty of others – look for a use by date and natural ingredients.
Omega 3 fatty acid is an essential fatty acid (EFA), which is not produced by the body and so must be consumed. Omega 3 fatty acid plays an important role in many cell functions and provides a long list of health benefits including; reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, improving mood and brain function and protecting against degenerative diseases like alzheimers. It can also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce hunger sensations – both important if you are trying to lose weight. The best food sources are fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, anchovies and sardines – you need to eat these types of fish at least two or three times a week to ensure adequate consumption of omega 3. If you don’t eat fish regularly, or don’t like fish, it would be worth considering a good quality fish oil supplement. The recommended dosage for maximum health benefits is around 1000mg EPA/DHA which may be achieved through 1-3 capsules per day. All products are required to meet EU legislation on food safety and pollution however some oils are purer and contain fewer pollutants such as mercury and lead than others. These are “ultra-refined oils”, they are also less likely to have that unpleasant fishy aftertaste! Good brands include Minami Nutrition’s MorEPA, Omax3 and BioCare Mega EPA Fish Oil Concentrate. If you are happy to swallow a teaspoon of oil directly (or add it to a smoothie or protein shake) Barlean’s Omega Swirl Lemon Zest Fish Oil is a good choice.
Vitamin D is only found in a small number of foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals, the best source is exposure to the sun and since we usually only expose our skin to the sun when we are wearing sunscreen, vitamin D deficiency is increasingly common. Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption, helping prevent osteoporosis, it reduces inflammation and improves immune health. It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression. Importantly, research has shown that vitamin D deficiency is linked to increased fat storage, poor muscle mass and strength. So if you are looking to improve lean muscle mass and body composition, live longer, healthier and stronger – make sure you take in sufficient vitamin D. This needs to be in the form of vitamin D3. The RDA for vitamin D3 is currently 600IU, although this is generally accepted as a minimum requirement, and this level is currently under government review with a report due this year. Many experts regard 1000-2000IU per day as a more effective dosage level for adults. Gel-based capsules are preferable to tablet form since vitamin D is fat soluble so this helps with absorption. There are many good brands available; Solgar produce a softgel 1000iu D3 supplement, which is not expensive.
(Please be aware that vitamin D is naturally contained in cold liver oil, so if you supplement with this oil, you do not need to take vitamin D separately.)
Magnesium is responsible for a large number of bodily functions including bone formation, muscle function, regulation of body temperature and blood pressure, metabolism of protein and importantly, calcium absorption. Magnesium deficiency is relatively common and it can cause an array of symptoms including muscle spasms, backache, headache, constipation insomnia, anxiety and general fatigue. Magnesium can be found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and avocado. However, many factors can adversely affect magnesium levels in the body; antibiotics and many prescription drugs, diuretics, alcohol consumption, high intake of carbohydrates, sodium and even high levels of calcium all interfere with normal magnesium absorption, as do chemicals in antiperspirants and pollutants in the air and water! Our soil is depleted of essential mineral so it’s not surprising that many people are deficient in magnesium. When taking a magnesium supplement it is best to choose magnesium citrate which is one of the easiest forms for the body to absorb. The recommended dietary allowance for magnesium citrate is 300mg, but it is best taken in several small doses so 100mg capsules/tablets are useful. Vega produce 100mg capsules which are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
We are not suggesting supplements are a substitute for good nutrition, but they may be worth considering alongside a healthy, balanced diet, in order to achieve optimum health.
As with any medication, you should consult your GP or medical provider before taking any new supplements to ensure they are right for you and there are no risks or contraindications. This is particularly important if you are taking any medication, are pregnant or suffer from any long-term or chronic illness.