The dietary supplements industry is worth $68 billion worldwide. That’s a lot of pills. Shouldn’t we be able to get all the nutrients our bodies need from food? In an ideal world that’s exactly what we’d do. Unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world. You can get tested to assess the nutrient levels in your body, however like with RDA’s for nutrients, the ‘acceptable level’ is so low that only the very malnourished and sick will show up as having low levels of certain nutrients. I like to set my standards a little higher than that.
Let’s take the average balanced diet, with the right portions of the right food groups, plenty of fruit and veg etc. All good on paper, however modern farming means that soils are used and reused over and over with the same crops, so they become depleted in nutrients. This has a knock-on effect of lower levels of nutrients being passed on to the crops themselves, and our fresh produce has far fewer vitamins and minerals in them than they did even just 100 years ago. Farmers who use crop rotation and organic methods produce slightly nutritionally superior crops, but still no match for the rich and nutritious food grown in rich, fertile, untapped soils.
Next up, our calorie consumption is not what it used to be. Yes I know as a nation we’re getting fatter, but actually imagine for a second you had no washing machine, no dishwasher, no car even – you’d be burning off so much energy doing all these jobs manually that people needed to eat much more than the 2000 calories the average woman needs today, and more food equates, naturally, to high intake of nutrients.
Not all pills are equal
Pills are not food. Your body recognises food, it does not recognise man made substances. That is why it will always be better to get as many nutrients as possible from real food, even if that means turning to ‘superfoods’ high in nutritional value per calorie, to pack in as many nutrients as possible. Just because you swallow 500mg of something, doesn’t mean you’ll absorb that amount. Much of it will be flushed through your system and you have wasted your money. Supplements are either naturally derived or man-made, highly processed or unprocessed (N.B unprocessed is not necessarily the better option in the case of supplements). How easily a substance is absorbed is known as Bioavailability. You want supplements that as highly bioavailable, because your body will absorb more of them. To state the obvious, you get what you pay for; get the best you can or don’t bother, because some of the budget versions on the market are as helpful as swallowing talcum powder.
The Most Helpful Dietary Supplements
- Multivitamin and Mineral: Whilst high bioavailability (how well your body absorbs them) and as high levels of each nutrients as possible is important, balance is key when combining nutrients such as in a Multivitamin, as nutrients all work together to work properly, but only in the correctly balanced amounts.
- Probiotics: ‘Good bacteria’ break down food so that you get maximum absorption. They also play a huge role in immunity – good levels mean you are less likely to get ill, and that’s all sorts of illnesses not just ones related to digestion and the gut.
- Digestive Enzymes: These break down food, aiding absorption, so you get the most from the food you eat. They also help minimise any digestive discomforts such as bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, and cramps.
- Vitamin B Complex: These play a huge role in the metabolism of food, and low levels will result in lethargy and low energy, and in turn more food being stored as fat instead of being used for energy.
- Essential Fatty Acids: Despite the widespread knowledge and increased awareness of the benefits of ‘good fats’ found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, olives and avocados etc., some people still don’t eat enough of these, and a supplements could help, especially in people who suffer from inflammatory conditions such as eczema and arthritis, as well as people with heart conditions and mood disorders.
- Vitamin D: Living in the Northern hemisphere, with long dark Winters, and our tendency to stay indoors, plus our scrupulous use of sun protection, mean many people are now deficient in the ‘sunshine’ vitamin which improves mood and is important for bone health. The best thing you can do is get outside when it’s light, even in Winter. Vitamin D is hard to come by in foods (those which do contain it have quite low levels), so supplements could help. You can read more about Vitamin D deficiency here (and get 10% off BetterYou Vitamin D sprays with code FITMUMFORMULA here)
VITL does personalised supplement packs including all of the above depending on your needs. Check out my review here.
Supplements for Fat Loss
- Electrolytes: Under and overeating, over training, sweating, drinking not enough or too much – it all messes with electrolyte levels, which have to be in balance to work properly (balance is more important than quantity). Electrolytes are vital for all manner of bodily functions. Addressing electrolyte levels can help with issues of water retention and/or dehydration.
- Fibre: Fibre not only helps keep cholesterol levels in check and digestion regular, it expands in the stomach and is slow to break down, meaning it keeps you feeling full for longer. There are two types: soluble and insoluble, and they can be taken as capsules, as a powder dissolved in water, or sprinkled onto food.
- BCAAs: Branch Chain Amino Acids are the ‘building blocks’ of protein, so supplementing can aid in muscle growth and repair, and prevent muscle breakdown. They also are used to increase energy and stamina and therefore aid workout performance, as well as helping to control appetite.
- Creatine Monohydrate: The most popular supplement for bodybuilders, as it is the most effective way to build muscle in addition to diet and training methods. Remember that women do NOT bulk up easily – the addition of creatine in women will aid the formation of lean muscle without looking like the Incredible Hulk, which is what you want and need for an efficient metabolism. It is NOT a steroid and has been approved as perfectly safe for consumption in otherwise healthy individuals.
- Essential Fatty Acids: see above. Certain omega 3 fats actually encourage your body to burn it’s own fat stores.
- Caffeine: a powerful but completely natural stimulant. Whilst caffeine is addictive in high amounts, used wisely it can aid weight loss, fat loss and exercise performance. You don’t have to take supplements as such – a cup of good quality strong coffee 15 minutes before a workout will improve your performance, but you’ll be using existing glycogen stores for energy (as opposed to the food you *did not* just eat), which will then need to be replenished by, you guessed it, existing fat stores.
Remember nothing can replace good old fashioned healthy eating and exercise. None of the above supplements are necessary to achieve good health, weight loss, lowered body fat percentage, or any other physiological change. We are not promoting, endorsing, or encouraging the use of supplements in place of good lifestyle discipline, merely giving you the facts so that you can make your own decisions as to whether they may be able to enhance your health and goal results. On the other hand, all of the above are completely natural and very safe when taken in the correct doses. Anyone thinking of adding supplements to their diet should consult their GP first as there can be interactions between certain supplements and medications or medical conditions.