Rule # 3 for Supplements: Test & Proceed with Caution


Picture Nutrition is an over-the-top business in America.  If buying complicated supplements and obsessing about what you eat is something you’re at least passingly familiar with, in your life or someone you know, you aren’t alone.  Billions are spent every year on nutrition media, organic food, “health” food, and nutritional supplements.  You can even buy organic, farm-to-table, vegetarian, gluten-free food and vitamins for your dog too.  Unfortunately, most of this money is wasted, on our dogs and ourselves.  Like most things, we tend to take our emphasis on trying to eat healthy and get nutrition to the extreme. 
Healthy nutrition is not that complicated
A little background: Eat mostly fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables.  Shoot for 5 – 6 servings per day. 
If it has a peeling, don’t waste your money on organic, because it doesn’t matter.  Regardless, wash all your fruit and vegetables well, unless it has a peeling, in which case it doesn’t matter. 
Eat lean protein once or a few times a day (1-2), but don’t overindulge in fatty meats.  Try to get organic meat if you can, or buy from a local farmer.  Eat some whole grains and slow-digesting carbohydrates and legumes, about 3-6 servings per day.  Go minimal on dairy, 1-2 servings per day is plenty.  Limit your alcohol and caffeine to 0-2 servings per day. 
As far as supplements, in this series of posts we’ve covered:
Rule 1: Supplements don’t replace a healthy diet.
Rule 2: Don’t take something unless you know for certain it won’t hurt you, and secondly that it is what it says it is.
Rule 3: Determine what you need to take as a supplement, if anything, and then see Rule 1 & 2 while proceeding with caution.
As far as rule 3, below is how you can determine whether you need specific supplements.  First, it is very difficult to test for vitamin deficiencies.  It can be done, but it must be done by someone who knows what they’re doing.  I am personally very skeptical about vitamin and mineral testing, but would trust a reputable physician to test for Iron, Vitamin D, and possibly B Vitamins.  Blood tests for vitamin deficiencies are not validated well, and may or may not be accurate.  It’s much more reasonable in my opinion to look for symptoms or problems, and I believe most people get too many vitamins, not too few
Here are some tests you can use to determine if you may have a Vitamin or Mineral deficiency, and a few tips:

  • Getting colds and allergies often? – Consider supplementing with Vitamin C and Vitamin D, and with a probiotic, which might boost your immunity.
  • Constipation? – Consider adding fiber to your diet through oatmeal, whole grains, raw veggies, or fiber supplements
  • Muscle cramps? – You may be lacking potassium, calcium, or magnesium. Prescription medications can contribute to the problem.
  • Brittle hair and nails? –This can be caused by low Biotin. 
  • Dry Skin? -Vitamin A can help with this.  Consider a low dose supplement.
  • Mouth sores? – Can be caused by low Vitamin B6.
  • Irritability, depression, loss of balance- Vitamin B12 can be a factor.
  • Try pressing on your chest.  If your skin is swelling and has a crater where you pressed, you may be low on Vitamin D.
  • When you get a physical, ask to test for vitamin deficiencies.  Your doctor should be able to assess your bloodwork for other factors other than and in addition to vitamin and mineral testing, such as white blood cells and red blood cells, and make suggestions, even if the direct information about specific vitamins is lacking.  You may also be able to get a hair test for Iron deficiency. 
  • Take a reputable and verified multi-vitamin every day to fill in the gaps. 
  • Check your medications carefully.  Most of them have side effects that could contribute to vitamin or mineral loss. 

I’d like to write a best-selling book on the “secrets” of nutrition and supplements, if there were any secrets. I’ve studied the topic of nutrition for years and I can tell you, it’s mostly a show.  It’s an entertainment and a diversion.  The last thing the world needs is another fad diet book, or “secrets of nutrition” book.  Don’t get me wrong, someone will do this and become famous.  But trust me, save your money.  Use these simple guidelines instead. 
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