Dietary supplements, whether they are vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, herbs or natural food sources, are now available readily from your local health food store, chemist or even supermarket. Are they worth all of the hype, and are they really necessary?
Why take a supplement?
Supplements can be taken as an addition to your daily diet, although they are not recommended to be used as a replacement. As a general rule, supplements can be highly beneficial when they are used in moderation and only when necessary. Many health practitioners are often prescribing supplements like medications, with ‘a pill for every ill’ mentality. There is no point in taking a pricey concoction of pills and potions if your daily diet is not adequate.
Supplements however can be useful in the following circumstances-
- Short-term use to correct nutritional deficiencies
- For those recovering from chronic illness
- To assist the body’s natural healing processes in acute or chronic illness
- For those that are taking prescribed medications to counteract harmful side effects
- Those with genetic weaknesses towards certain diseases
- People working in an industry where they are continually exposed to chemicals (e.g. Mechanics, Hairdressers, Farmers)
- Children (or adults) who ‘don’t like the taste of vegetables’
- Vegetarians and vegans in the case of B12
- Pregnant and lactating women
For the most part, you should aim to obtain the majority of nutrients from the food you eat everyday, by choosing foods that are fresh and minimally processed. With the exception of the above points, a well-balanced, whole food, plant-based diet will provide you with all the vitamins and minerals you need for your body to function optimally. Acquiring nutrients from whole foods is the most natural form of nutrition, because whole foods contain fibre, protein and other phytochemicals to optimise the absorption of the nutrients they contain.
As you may have heard before, modern farming methods have led to the gradual depletion of the soil that plants are grown in, which has overall reduced the nutritional quality of the food we eat. This factor in itself emphasises that we do need to choose foods that have a high nutritional value per calorie to overcome this. Fruits and vegetables should make up most of your daily diet; processed foods are simply not going to cut it. If you know for a fact that you do not consume enough, I strongly suggest that you make the effort to increase these nutritional powerhouses gradually, if not straight away.
One group of natural food supplements that are recommended to include daily for a nutritional boost are a group of supplements dubbed “Super foods”. Super foods are whole foods that are very rich in nutrients, and may include Broccoli sprouts, Cacao (raw cacao powder), Mesquite and Wheatgrass and Barley grass.
Some favourites in this category include the following-
Spirulina is a blue-green algae which claims to be nature’s richest source of protein (65% of it’s weight), is 58% richer in iron than spinach and contains 25 times more beta carotene than carrot. In total it contains over 100 nutrients, which is more than any other plant, grain or herb1.
Acai berry is a purple berry from Brazil, which boasts one of the world’s highest concentrations of antioxidants, 42 times more than blueberries. It has a mild flavour and is low in sugars, and it can be added to smoothies and cereals2.
Maca powder is a ground Peruvian root vegetable that contains trace elements, is high in protein and has a delicious ‘caramel-like’ flavour. It is beneficial for promoting hormonal balance, energy, and is a great addition to a banana smoothie.
Chia seeds are tiny black and white seeds that offer the highest amount of Omega 3 of any plant source, as well as 6 times the amount of fibre than oat bran, and 5 times more Calcium than milk. They are best unheated and can be added to porridge, cereal, salads or smoothies3.
How can this be implemented daily?
This is an example basic meal plan to display the sort of foods you can choose daily to get the most from your diet without the use of supplements*.
Super food Smoothie- 1 cup rice milk, 1 tbs. each Chia seeds and pumpkin seeds, 1 banana, 1 tsp. Spirulina
1 handful Mixed nuts (raw and unsalted)- brazil, cashew, almond, walnuts
Quinoa salad with roasted root vegetables, red capsicum, sunflower seeds, baby spinach and avocado
Fruit salad- any fresh fruit that is in season (include berries)- banana, apple, berries (can buy frozen), kiwifruit and mango
Hearty Red lentil Dahl served with brown rice, steamed kale, broccoli and zucchini and fresh garden salad with tahini lemon dressing
By choosing foods that are of a high nutritional quality you will improve your overall health and reduce the need for extra supplements. Although they can be useful in certain circumstances, supplements can be expensive, and it would be highly valuable to base your diet on fresh fruit and vegetables instead.
*This example meal plan is designed to be suited to a healthy person, please note that if any of the circumstances listed earlier apply to you, extra supplementation may be necessary
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia Licence