We all wish we had unlimited time and resources we could dedicate to designing perfect meal plans, but if that’s not feasible, supplements can help you make sure you’re not missing out on important nutrients.
Do I really need to take supplements?
Magnesium is an example of a mineral many people are deficient in, even though the RDA is attainable through food like almonds, spinach and beans. Other people struggle to fit in adequate amounts of fatty fish on a weekly basis, and decide to supplement with fish oil instead to make sure they’re not missing out on the important omega-3 fatty acids..
Certain nutrients can be hard to come by in the foods you eat, no matter how varied your diet is. Getting your needs covered are also important to keep in mind if you decide to go for a more plant based diet. Let’s take closer a look at examples of need-to-have nutrients where supplementation is extra important to consider:
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body. This mechanism is necessary to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Apart from that, Vitamin D is a key regulator in our immune system and helps support it and make sure it functions optimally. It also regulates absorption of minerals like magnesium, and having adequate amounts of vitamin D in the blood is therefore highly important.
Unfortunately, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide are deficient, which isn’t surprising considering that our lives are becoming increasingly indoor and sedentary, and Vitamin D deficiency is much more prevalent in areas with less sunny climates. This makes sense, as most of our vitamin D is produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight.
So how do we make sure we’re getting enough vitamin D? Firstly, we should try to spend some more time outdoors, but sunscreen reduces production of Vitamin D with almost 90%, and even without sunscreen, sunlight in the northern hemisphere is not strong enough for our body to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D most of the year (September-May).
Since it’s only naturally present in a limited number of food sources, for most people vitamin D is a nutrient where it makes sense to consider supplementation.
If your multivitamin contains under 400 IU of vitamin D and you live in higher latitudes or don’t spend much time in the sun, consider supplementing with a separate vitamin D supplement. Large studies show that a dosage between 2000-3000 IU per day is beneficial to keep your vitamin D levels optimal.
We’ve covered the health benefits and the climate friendliness of adopting a more plant based diet in previous tips, but this comes with a few nutritional challenges - studies indicate that up to 80-90% percent of vegans may be deficient in vitamin B12 , a nutrient that helps keep the body's nerve- and blood cells healthy, so you feel energized. Because vitamin B12 is found predominantly in animal sources, if you're a vegan you might consider taking a supplement.
There are other important nutrients that while not impossible, are harder to get enough of on a plant based diet . These include protein, the minerals calcium, , zinc, iodine, iron and vitamin A plus B3. Luckily, there are vegan multivitamins and protein powders that can help you get all the nutrients you need while reaping the climate and health benefits of making your diet staples plant based.
It is important to keep in mind that the supplement industry is largely unregulated. Poor manufacturing processes and intentional contamination with many banned substances continue to occur, and it defeats the point of supplementing if you’re ingesting harmful contaminants on a daily basis - so try to keep this in mind when supplement shopping, and only go for supplements from brands you trust or that are tested for contamination by independent 3rd party labs that publish data for each batch.
Supplements and the environment
The supplement industry can potentially play a vital role in mitigating climate change, as it opens up the possibility of eating less foods that have a detrimental impact on the environment and getting the vitamins you lose when reducing intake of meat, dairy and eggs from supplements instead.
One thing you can do right now to lower your environmental footprint is to go for certified sustainable fish oil - overfishing can have serious consequences for surrounding ecosystems and can lead to unrecoverable loss of marine species.
For many of us, large parts of our lives are spent indoors, in cars, on the go, and that can get in the way of the focus it requires to get all of the nutrients we need through our diets, and some vitamins are hard to get enough of no matter how hard we try. Supplements make it possible for us to safely adopt diets that have a positive impact on our environment, especially when we make sure we are buying products that are 3rd party tested and sustainably sourced. Summed up: Though not a replacement for a healthy diet, supplements open a door to a healthier life for us, when external limitations get in the way.