The Great Supplement Debate

Do you take supplements? I get asked all the time if I do. I get asked to try out supplement products and promote them on my blog. You’ll notice that I don’t do that. I wrote a blog post a while back on Meal Replacement products that pretty well expressed my overall approach to supplementation.

In the past, I’ve used supplements. I did the liquid meal diet stuff. I took the fat burners. I took the pills that expanded in your stomach. I took the pills that made food go through me undigested. I popped all the pills they told me would make me lose weight effortlessly. That effortless weight loss never happened though, and I got pretty disillusioned after a while. 5 years ago when I finally stopped dieting, I also stopped taking supplements. Any supplements. I was bound and determined to get ALL my nutrition from food. And it worked pretty well! Changing my focus from magic pills to diet and lifestyle was the key to finally losing weight and improving my health. I’ve never taken any performance enhancing supplements, or fat burning supplements, or appetite suppressing supplements.

I softened up a teeny bit over time though. My iron levels tend to run a little low even if I’m getting enough iron from food, so I started taking an iron supplement in the last year. My D gets lowish in the winter, so I now take a D supplement when I’m getting less sun. I don’t like eating tons of animal foods (this is purely personal taste, not philosophical), so in order to meet my protein needs, I supplement with a high quality protein powder added to my oatmeal in the morning. I take a supplement that contains glucosamine and curcumin for my arthritic knees, on my doctors orders. I take these supplements because they are indicated for my specific needs, based on medical tests and dietary need. When people ask me if they should take supplements, I tell them to get a checkup and a blood panel, take a good look at their diet, and take any supplements that those factors indicate might be helpful. And if everything looks good, don’t waste your money! Supplements are there to fill in the gaps, not to be the foundation. If there are no gaps, awesome! Keep doing what you’re doing. If there are gaps, do your best to fill them with food, but don’t be ashamed to use supplements in the short term if you need to, as you work on tweaking your diet. And if you’re like me with iron, and even with proper diet your body still falls a little short, well that’s exactly what supplements are for.

One of the resources I turned to as I was researching supplements was my friend Sol’s Supplement Guide (Sol is the guy who wrote the brilliant take-down of the ‘running makes you fat’ meme that’s been spewed all over the internet). This guide is exhaustive. He examined all the science supporting (or rather, in most cases NOT supporting) the effectiveness of supplements. He also looked at the science examining dietary factors like soy, and presents it objectively and without profit motive – his company (examine.com) does not market supplements. They provide evidence and information. Check it out if you’re interested in the facts and evidence, without the hype and rhetoric of the supplement manufacturers. It’s good stuff. And for the next 60 hours, it’s 25% off!

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2 thoughts on “The Great Supplement Debate

  1. The only thing I take anymore is one magnesium citrate a day. I dropped all the rest.

    My body does not tolerate Vitamin D supplements, so I use a Sperti Vitamin D lamp in the winter and an hour of sun a day in the summer or whenever possible.

    I went to the emergency room after my doctor told me to take Vitamin B-12, so dutifully I took one and my blood pressure went to 183/119 and would not come down even after twelve hours. The diagnosis was hypervitaminosis and all they told me to do was wait it out until the excess came out of my body.

    I feel a lot better getting off the supplement bandwagon, which I had been on for many years: D, B-complex, Cortisol Manager, True Calm, GABA, selenium, DHEA, and more. It’s all gone except one magnesium a day.

    And you know what? For me, I feel a lot better. It’s certainly a lot cheaper.

  2. “Supplements are there to fill in the gaps, not to be the foundation”. Spot on. I use some supplements now, but the goal is to minimise them as the quality of my diet improves (coming off a pretty SAD diet). I will probably still take Vit D as I am chronically deficient (again, hoping that will change as my health improves), plus some K2 as I take small amount of aspirin for inflammation.

    One thing I noticed…I personally found it very difficult to meet my nutritional requirements when eating less than 2000 calories a day. Not impossible, but very hard. I find it much easier now I’m eating 2300+.

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