In real food circles you will hear all sorts of varying opinions about supplementation. Some claim that if your diet is healthy enough you will never need to supplement. Others (like myself) feel that supplements can close some nutritional gaps and fix deficiencies and are therefore beneficial. I think the key thing to remember is that supplementing with various vitamins and minerals does not excuse us from trying to eat as healthy and as nourishing as possible. It merely gives us an edge in a world where soil is nutritionally depleted, farming practices are shady, and foods are less nutritious than they used to be. I choose to tackle the issue of nutritional deficiencies from both sides…healthy, nutrient dense foods that are grown as responsibly as possible AND nutritional supplementation.
With the above mentioned challenges it is easier than you might think to be missing some key nutrients from your diet, even if you think you eat pretty healthy. If you are eating the SAD (Standard American Diet) than the news is even worse. Here are 5 common nutrients that many of us miss and steps we can take to fix these deficiencies.
Calcium – We don’t just need calcium when our bones are growing. We need it throughout our lives to keep our bones strong. A huge part of this is exercise and strength training, which many people make less time for as they get older. We can get some calcium from dairy products as all the magazine ads for milk would have us believe but we do not need low fat dairy and we probably consume too much milk/dairy. Try getting most of your calcium from leafy greens (spinach, collards) vegetables (broccoli), nuts, and seeds.
Magnesium – Calcium and magnesium actually go together like peas and carrots so if you are deficient in one than you are likely deficient in the other because they work as a team to build strong bones and flexible muscles. A magnesium deficiency can actually cause all sorts of problems. In fact, it regulates more than 325 enzymes in the body and the most vital of those are ones that help to produce, transport, store, and utilize energy. You can get it from leafy greens and veggies, nuts, and seeds (just like calcium). Because absorption can be problematic a supplement is never a bad idea and a topical oil is also very handy.
Vitamin B12 – Many of us are B12 deficient…some studies have shown about 40% of us have below optimal levels. It is tied directly to the health of our nervous system as well as red blood cell production. Those at greatest risk are plant based diet supporters because B12 can ONLY be found in animal products. This is probably why anemia is so common among vegans. The best sources are clams, fish, and liver meats. Because a leaky gut can make it hard for even meat eaters to get enough B12, a supplement may be in order.
Vitamin D – This all important vitamin helps with bone health, immunity, and it lowers our risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Very few foods in nature contain Vitamin D though. The best sources would be fatty fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel. Small amounts are in beef liver and eggs yolks. Other than that your best bets are lots of regular sunshine, a 600 IU a day pill, and/or cod liver oil.
Vitamin E – This one is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radicals and reduces risk of certain cancers but because of the fat phobia that exists many are missing out. Good sources include nuts and seeds, nut butters, leafy greens, broccoili, red bell peppers, and seafood.
It’s a good idea to think about nutritional deficiencies when doing your meal plans so you can try and tackle them to the best of your ability and make sure certain foods appear each week. I would also not be afraid to close some gaps with supplements if you feel inclined. It is easier than ever to access supplements in your local health food stores or you can buy vitamins online from Golden Glow or other reputable sources. Most of us agree that our health is our wealth so making sure we have all our nutritional Ts crossed with a good diet first, then with a little outside help, just makes good sense.