“Can I get all the nutrients I need from food?” is a common question I hear from clients. Theoretically, if you are eating a whole, fresh, unprocessed foods diet you should be getting an adequate supply of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients?
Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy. Even with a perfect diet, it is often impossible for us to get the vitamins and minerals we need solely from the foods we eat1.
Emerging scientific evidence shows there are large-scale deficiencies of nutrients in our population – including omega-3 fats, vitamin D, folate, zinc, magnesium, and iron – have been well documented in extensive government-sponsored research.
4 Main Reasons We Are Nutrient Depleted
There are numerous reasons most of us are nutrient deficient today. Factory farming and depleted soil where our food is grown as well as the high volumes of, processed, high-sugar, high-calorie foods containing minimal nutrients that we consume today are among the worst contributors.
These are among the reasons why everyone, at the very least, needs a good multivitamin, fish oil, and vitamin D. I also recommend probiotics because modern life, diet, and antibiotics, as well as other drugs, damage our gut ecosystem, which is so important in keeping us healthy and thin.
Potential Problems with Choosing Supplements
You know what you are getting when your pharmacist fills your prescription. The government makes sure of it. Over-the-counter supplements are not controlled in this same way. Manufacturers often cut corners and this can become problematic for the average consumer.
The issues you might experience with over-the-counter supplements that you buy at your local drugstore or warehouse store include:
- The form of the nutrient may be cheap and poorly absorbed or used by the body.
- The dosage on the label may not match the dose in the pill.
- It may be filled with additives, colors, fillers, and allergens.
- The raw materials (especially herbs) may not be tested for toxins, such as mercury or lead, or may not be consistent from batch to batch.
- The factory in which it is produced may not follow good manufacturing standards, leading to inconsistent quality.
Be sure to pick quality supplements. Think of them as part of your diet. You want the best-quality food and the best-quality supplements you can buy. Guidance from a trained dietitian, nutritionist, or nutritionally oriented physician or health care practitioner can be helpful in selecting the products that are right for you.
High-Quality, High-Potency, Complete Multivitamin
The right multivitamin will contain all the basic vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind that getting the optimal doses usually requires 2 to 6 capsules or tablets a day. Some people may have unique requirements for much higher doses that need to be prescribed by a trained nutritional or functional medicine physician.
Note that B complex vitamins are especially important for those with diabetes, as they help protect against diabetic neuropathy or nerve damage, and improve metabolism and mitochondrial function. Antioxidants such as vitamin E, C, and selenium are also important as they may help reduce oxidative stress.
The vitamin D deficiency is epidemic, with up to 80 percent of modern day humans are deficient or suboptimal in their intake and blood levels. Depending on what’s in your multivitamin, I recommend taking additional vitamin D. Vitamin D3 improves metabolism by influencing more than 200 different genes that can prevent and treat diabetes4and metabolic syndrome5.
There are several important things to keep in mind when taking vitamin D:
- Take the right type of vitamin D— D3 (cholecalciferol), not D2. Most doctors prescribe vitamin D2. Do not take prescription vitamin D; it is not as effective and not very biologically active.
- Monitor your vitamin D status with your doctor. Get your blood level to 45 to 60 ng/dl. Be sure to request the right blood test, which is the Vitamin D 25 Blood test to accurately check vitamin D levels.
- Give time to fill up your tank. It can take 6 to 12 months for some people. The average daily dose for maintenance for most people is 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (EPA and DHA)
These important fats improve insulin sensitivity, lower cholesterol by lowering triglycerides and raising HDL, reduce inflammation, prevent blood clots, and lower the risk of heart attacks6. Fish oil also improves nerve function and may help prevent the nerve damage common in diabetes7.
Diets low in magnesium are associated with increased insulin levels, and magnesium deficiency is common in diabetics. Magnesium helps glucose enter the cells and turn those calories into energy for your body.
Some people with severe magnesium deficiency may need more than the amount outlined below If you are concerned you may be severely deficient, discuss the details with your doctor.
Diarrhea is often a sign that you are getting too much magnesium. If this occurs, just back off on the dose, and avoid magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, or oxide. They are the cheapest and most common forms found in supplements but are poorly absorbed. Switch to magnesium glycinate. If you tend to be constipated, use magnesium citrate.
People with kidney disease or severe heart disease should take magnesium only under a doctor’s supervision.
You need a daily source of vitamin B12, B6, and folate for methylation to occur properly. Methylation is a biochemical process involved in almost all of your bodily functions. When you don’t get enough, your methylation pathways stall and your body’s biochemistry breaks down. Symptoms of B12 deficiency include numbness or tingling in the hands, legs, or feet; difficulty walking (staggering, balance problems); anemia; a swollen, inflamed tongue; yellowed skin (jaundice); difficulty thinking and reasoning (cognitive difficulties) or memory loss; paranoia or hallucinations; weakness; fatigue. Other studies show B deficiency is involved in all mental illnesses, especially depression, Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
All of the vitamin B12 in our diets must come from animal-based foods (meat, fish, eggs or dairy products), vegetarians can easily develop deficiencies, especially vegan children if they don’t eat grains fortified with B12 or take a vitamin supplement. Pregnant women and those who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders are also at higher risk. Vitamin B12 depletion also can occur in those who drink alcohol to excess, as well as some patients on long-term antibiotic therapy. Certain prescribed drugs including stomach-acid-suppressants (H-2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors) and the diabetes drug metformin can contribute to B12 deficiencies, and nicotine can also lower serum levels. In addition, people who have had weight loss surgery can become deficient because the operation affects the body’s ability to obtain B12 from food.