What to Do? Supplements, Food, or Both?
Let’s talk about the RDI or “Recommended (or Reference) Daily Intake,” amounts that are assigned to various vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. These amounts were first established by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, a branch of the U.S. government) in 1968 when it was called the Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA. For decades we’ve based our grocery store purchases on the RDIs on food labels in the United States and Canada, as well as a few other countries. Bu here’s the thing. The RDI provides amounts necessary to prevent blatant and chronic deficiency and the diseases that follow. Think of it as being just enough each day not to get scurvy or beriberi. It’s a useful government info keeping us all from knock knees, protruding ribs, and pirate teeth. RDI addresses severe life-threatening deficiency.
What about something more optimal? Something way better than just good enough to prevent scurvy? If we were able to take in and use vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, micronutrients, and plant nutrients at more ideal levels each day, then we might stress less, sleep better, find a happy weight, crave less, get sick less, age slower, and care for our hearts and other organs better. This is called nourishment and it’s one of the main reasons we have food.
#1: High Nutrient Principles for Optimal Health
- Know and/or Decrease Your Depleters, things that block the absorption and utilization of vitamins and minerals at the cellular level. Most of us use one or more everyday– antacids, refined sugar, soda, caffeine, NSAIDS (Advil, Aleve, Motrin), nicotine, statin drugs (to lower cholesterol), beta blockers (for high blood pressure), and birth control pills are a few. Check your medications on drugs.com to see what kind of depletions they create.
- Increase Digestive Health. We are not what we eat; we are what we absorb and use. Most of us have a compromised digestive system because of stress, a poor food system (think a lifetime of hot dogs, bagels, and Oreos), and lack of good bacteria in everyday diet. Therefore, you can eat blueberries and seaweed all day– or take the best multivitamin– but if you’re gut is a mess, then you will not absorb and assimilate it. Assessing and increasing GI health is something I help people with almost every day. I have lots of great ideas…maybe even for you.
- Increase Variety and Color. If you have a plate of brown, something is wrong. You can’t get the nutrients your body and mind require through brown food, no matter how tasty you say it is.The more colorful you can make your plate through the use of fruits and vegetables, the better off your nutrient reserves will be and the healthier you will be.
- Increase Vegetables. Start at breakfast, using the ‘adding principle’ to begin to sneaking veggies into every meal and snack throughout the day. If you find that a meal is brown or devoid of veggies, figure out how to garnish or add until you grow a taste and a need for plant life on your plate. If you build it, they will come.
- Eat Food; Don’t Eat Not-Food. Real, whole food possesses the greatest nutrient potential. Anything in a box, bag, or can is not quite food. Start in the produce section and treat it as your food pharmacy. If anything packaged has more than roughly three to five ingredients or your third-grader can’t pronounce something, put it back on the shelf and hope that no one else buys it.
#2: Try My Favorite Supplement-Foods!
- Coconut Oil. My all-time favorite. I use this in raw, extra-virgin form, both internally and externally. It deserves its own post, but I’ll just say that it is filling when I’m bonking, burns nicely as energy because of its MCTs (medium chain triglycerides– or fats), is delicious, moisturizes the skin and hair, and is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal– in case you’re having any trouble there. I eat a few teaspoons a day and smear it all over my face, arms, and hands.
- Buckwheat Honey. A new addition! We found this raw, unfiltered molasses-like goodness at Mountain Fair in Carbondale, CO, from a little New Mexican company called Bee Chama Honey. This stuff is black gold. Studies show that buckwheat honey dissolved in water raises the serum antioxidant capacity of its recipient. This means that more free radicals in the body are able to be absorbed upon consumption. Check out the study here.
- Green Tea. This gives steady, clean caffeine that doesn’t make my sloggy and doesn’t make me crash two hours later. It’s also one of the foods highest in antioxidants, specifically the plant nutrient class called polyphenols. These are cancer-disruptive compounds, especially helpful in the prevention of breast and prostate cancer and also helpful to the lungs, stomach, and intestines.
- Hemp Seeds. Not exactly a meal by themselves, these little nuggets are nutty and a great addition to nearly anything from yogurt and cereal to soup and salad. Three tablespoons carry 11 grams of protein, 11 grams of healthy omega fats, 15% RDI of iron, 25% RDI of zinc, 50% RDI of phosphorus, and 50% RDI of magnesium. Even if you refuse to use RDI, I’d say that’s pretty high for 3 little tablespoons. See Nutiva.
- Coconut Kefir Probiotic. Not the saucy yogurt-like kefir you might be thinking of, this is a clear, fizzy, fermented liquid super high in beneficial bacteria. One shot glass a day keeps the body in balance. I swish before swallowing to battle bad gum bacteria, too. Check out inner-eco for my favorite.
#3: If You Want or Need to Take Supplements…
- Treat Them as Supplementary. “Supplement” means to complete something that is not yet whole. Vitamins and minerals in pill form are not an excuse to eat Little Debbie, Oscar Meyer, or other so-called food with people-names. Eat food that has food names, then use your pills on the side to fill in the gaps.
- Consider Digestion. If you fart a lot, we might have a problem Houston. Any chronic digestive disorder from flatulence to diarrhea to heartburn to belly aches to belching can mean that your entire digestive tract is calling out for specific attention. If any of these things is a daily or regular occurrence, don’t fool yourself. It’s not normal. Seriously. Constant gas is not normal. Not being able to poop for three days is not normal. Listen to your gut– and your butt. They might be trying to tell you something. If they are, then all the supplementation in the world, all the best vitamins and minerals, might not do you a bit of good. Take care of the digestion first, then the nutrition can follow.
- Test for Deficiency; Look for It Too. Blood and urine tests from a trained M.D. or N.D. can tell you an awful lot about what’s going on inside your body, at a blood chemistry level and at a cellular level. This is a very scientific process that serves as an amazing tool, especially in a society where we have the technology and availability to do it. Blood does not tell the whole story, though. We must also look at health history, listen to symptoms and complaints, and check out our own constitution– how we look, feel, and act on a daily basis. Sometimes that can tell us just as much as a lab can.
- Focus on Food Based Brands. Not all supplements are created equally and, honestly, a lot of it is a money-making, health-facade racket. If you’re going to supplement, do it right, focusing on quality, not quantity. Don’t spend $10 to get something crappy but saves you $15 when you can spend $25 on something proven to be excellent. If this is the dilemma, don’t spend $15; save up and spend $25. My recommendation across the board, regardless of what kind of supplement you need to take, is MegaFood. It’s made from actual food, not chemicals or food powder. The body recognizes it and knows where to put it. It’s easy to digest and though pricier than Kirkland by a long shot, well worth it.
- Talk to Someone Who Knows More Than You Do. You can learn a lot on the internet, but it’s always a crap shoot, no fooling. There is also a discrepancy between what the government says is healthy, what traditional Western medicine says is healthy, and what a newer wave of functional doctors, nutritionists, chiropractors, and other practitioners says is healthy. It’s your job to gather the information, be a thinking individual, and decide for yourself. Remember, it’s your body, your life, and your health.
- Remember, We’re All Different. We all have different issues, bodies, guts, and therefore different needs. The newest rage, what your sister or best friend takes, or what some celeb is talking about might not be right for you. In fact, it almost certainly isn’t.
Check in with yourself. Check out your supplement cabinet. Check up on your vegetable status and see whether or not everything in your crisper is turning to brown slime. Do a little inventory. See where you stand and what you might need. Then take a breath and proceed.
Till then, chow.