Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Posts tagged ‘supplements’


I was contemplating the conundrum about vitamins, and as soon as I logged on, this article, telling me not to take vitamins, popped up. If you don’t feel like reading it, it says that there is no correlation between vitamin use and increased health, in fact there is some evidence to the contrary. Of course, I’m suspicious if they don’t include links to the research they are citing. The minute I did a search on research on vitamin benefits I got this article from Harvard School of Public Health, stating it is a good idea to take a multi vitamin. Another article from CNN, shows very inconclusive results as to whether vitamins prevent breast cancer or heart disease. Even Vitamin D, the current darling is starting to lose its shine, see here.

From everything I’ve read, I think there are some things we can say.

  1. You are always better off getting your vitamins from food
  2. More is not always better.
  3. Pills cannot compensate for poor choices
  4. Diseases are complex, and any kind of pill is only part of the answer.
  5. We don’t understand the whole picture of how food affects our body, so pulling one nutrient out and focusing on it may be counter productive.

Vitamins and minerals have been on my mind lately. As I’ve my mentioned before, I use myfitnesspal. I don’t have trouble with my weight, but I do it to help my clients, and to have an objective measure of “healthy” eating. I eat most of my diet with the objective of it being healthy choices. I find it interesting what the results are. First, A and C are easy to get. You almost have to try to be deficient in those two.

Interestingly, those are the two most often listed on labels. Myfitnesspal doesn’t give you the option of tracking the b family, d or others. You can however track sodium, potassium, iron and calcium. I find that I don’t get enough minerals, even though I eat a largely whole food diet. (No one’s perfect-I do eat desert). There is the possibility that Myfitnesspal is inaccurate. Much of what is in the database is user supplied, making its accuracy suspect. However, the other day I had commercial cereal, and for the first time, my iron intake was over 100 percent.

So, if taking a multivitamin is not beneficial, why do we fortify foods? We do have proof that fortifying foods reduced the incidence of pellagra and rickets. Is is possible to get all your nutrients from food? Is the USDA’s RDA inaccurate? Is the only way to get it all from food is to go from the other direction, and pick foods based on their nutrients, then figure out how to make meals of them?

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think science does yet, either. It is beneficial to pay attention, learn, and do your best. Another thing to remember is that “vitamins” and “supplements” are pretty broad categories. there is a world of difference between a daily multivitamin and some “proprietaries blend” of goodness knows what. There are people out there hawking all kinds of “supplements” There is no evidence that mega doses of anything is good for you. The funny thing is, many of the people who are taking tons of crazy  supplements are the same people who are eating right. When you do start to study nutrition, you see how important it is to eat healthy food as much as possible. You don’t have a lot of calories to waste on junk, especially if you are a small person, who doesn’t take a lot of calories to maintain.


Common Sense?

view of a variety of pills spilling out of a bottle

This is better than food?

Time for me to ride on of my favorite hobby horses. I just spent some time with a friend who was using and selling supplements. The conversation that occurred spawned this blog. I am not anti supplement. I take several, based on their efficacy and my perceived lack of nutrients. I’m not in favor of “proprietorial blends” of ingredients, mostly involving tiny amounts of natural foods.  Could I be wasting my money on what I do take? Sure, that’s why I don’t buy super expensive ones, and they are all specific ones, to address specific needs. Expensive ones always try to tell you that theirs are superior in purity, quality, nature of ingredients. They may be right. I just don’t have money to spend unless there was a measurable difference in my health. Occasionally I’ve allowed myself to be talked into buying some of them, and haven’t seen any difference. Turmeric, rosemary, onion, and garlic can all be bought in the produce aisle, or even cheaper in bulk from outlets. Rose hips can be grown in your own yard. Why are you popping a 5$ pill with blueberry in it when you could just eat some? Could some forms of Glucosamine Chondroitin be better than others? Possibly, but the cheap form I take works, and it isn’t cheap. No one herb is magical, and if you start to eat right, most of the issues these “magical supplements” are purported to solve will solve themselves.

Eat Right!!!

But this isn’t even the biggest point to be made. My real beef is with people spending a fortune on supplements, and not watching their diets. If they are watching their diets, they don’t need the supplements. When I see an ad for “supergreens” I get irritated. First, greens are everywhere. Spinach, kale, lettuce, celery and other greens are readily available in the supermarket. Just throw them in the blender and tada! You have your own super greens. Don’t want to drink them? Chop them in a salad. People- it’s FOOD. Why are you taking your food in a pill or powder? You want a powder? Dry them and put them in your blender. If you are taking them in a pill or powder, you leave a lot of room for bad things in your diet. If you think you can drink a powder in a shake, then eat a hot dog, you’re kidding yourself.

Clean up your diet, and you will get everything you need:
  • Fat is an acquired taste, you can “unacquire” it.
  • Start with veggies you like, find ways to branch out to other veggies.
  • Don’t batter and deep fry anything.
  • Don’t eat out.
  • Hate veggies? Eat a variety of fruits, or drink a green smoothie- fruit with spinach added. Keep trying new recipes and ways of eating them to find ones you like.
  • Eat whole grains- wheat berries, bulgar wheat, brown rice, quinoa (technically not a grain, but used that way), amaranth, buckwheat, millet
  • Limit red meat to once or twice a week.
  • Have fish at least twice a week.
  • Eat healthy fats- olive oil, walnuts, olives, flax,
  • Eat beans- lots of them

Try all these things, see how you feel. I won’t have any sympathy for “how expensive it is to eat right” if you can afford all those supplements. I know a lot of ads are very persuasive, but the real answer is a lot less expensive, but does require more of a commitment on your part.




Do Supplements Really Help?

Here is yet another article informing us that taking pills will not solve our problems. Even the highly touted fish oil, the one that to my knowledge no one has ever said anything negative about, appears to be ineffective against preventing heart disease if it is already established, or if you are at really high risk. Here is the money quote, in my opinion:

The results do show that people can’t rely on a pill to make up for a bad diet, she said.

“It is sort of like breaking a fish oil capsule over a hot fudge sundae and expecting the effect of the calories and saturated fat to go away,” she said.

We’ve gone through this in the past, with vitamin c and e, where when people eat diets high in these vitamins, they have less disease and greater health, but the same health benefits don’t apply to taking those vitamins in pill form. You can’t eat a poor diet and expect pills to make up the difference, and as far as we can tell, pills don’t have the same effect as the substance does in food.

Having said all this, I do take some supplements. Some I think do help, although it could be the placebo effect. I also eat a very healthy diet. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a strong genetic predisposition to heart disease, so I am doing an experiment of 1 to see if I can counteract that with diet and exercise. I experiment with supplements on three criteria- Is there any scientific evidence supporting their claims? Is it expensive? Is there any possibility of harm? Most I’ve dropped, as I see no difference. The joint supplements do seem to help, so those I continue. And yes, I do fish oil, along with my healthy diet, as it does no harm and is inexpensive.


Recently my son and I were talking about design, and he was saying that you always have to question why you are making your design choices. I was thinking about this today as I was making my breakfast. I put a lot of things in my oatmeal, all for different reasons.  I was leaving out the peanut butter. Why? Because it only has 7 g of protein for 240 calories per serving. Bread has 5g, for 110 calories. That makes bread a better protein source than peanut butter. Which lead me to think about the assumptions we make about our food, and how good it is for you.

I just want to challenge everyone out there: why are you eating what you do? Never just mindlessly eat. Every cell in your body is made up from the food you eat. How healthy they are is determined by the choices you make about what goes into your mouth. While weight is what everyone obsesses over, it is the nutrients that come along with the calories that count for optimum health. Yes, losing weight, even on the twinkie diet, will improve your health to some degree, but do you want your health to be determined by “not dying”?

You have to think about what you eat and why, especially if you are on any kind of restrictive diet. A calorie is never just a calorie. Every calorie is also a carb, fat or protein. It is either packaged with fiber, vitamins, phyto-nutrients and water or it isn’t. Every fat calorie is either a transfat, omega-3, omega-6, omega 12, saturated or something else. The fat choices are extensive, and confusing.

If you are taking a food group out of your diet, either for weight loss or other reasons, it makes your choices more critical. Some people are anti-supplement. I would say if you are, then you would do well to only eat perfectly healthy food, never touching a cookie, candy or baked good, and never eliminating any food groups.  Most of us won’t achieve that. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you need protein supplements and B vitamins. If you are avoiding dairy, you need another source for calcium. When I was doing my diet experiment, I did fine on the “macro-nutrients”-fiber, protein, fats and carbs, but never reached most of the USDA recommended levels for vitamins without taking a supplement.

However you plan out your meals, step back and take a look at them. What are they giving you? How nutrient packed are your choices? Yes, there are some things we make and eat just for the taste, but that should be 20% or less in our diet. For example, we are having a party tonight. There are some foods I will be serving that would surprise people, since don’t appear to be nutritious. However, that is not how I eat every day, and some of those foods are more nutritious than they look, since I know some tricks to hide veggies in other things. I have vegans coming over, so I made some choices based on their protein needs. I have two recipes using crescent rolls. There is no redeeming a crescent roll, but the fillings are made from low fat products and vegetables. I’m not serving anything sweet, other than fruit. So even at a party, attempts to improve the nutritional content can be made.

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