The Health and Wellness industry is a $6 Billion industry that thrives on making people feel like they need to take every magic potion, pill and powder in order to look and feel their best.
I know this trap all too well! Before I became a nutritionist, I could have bought a house in Leaside with the amount of money I spent on supplements. I took every vitamin in the alphabet. If it promised more energy, weight loss support, or better ‘hair, skin and nails’ – I was buying it. Sadly, nothing ever really seemed to deliver on its promise and both me and my bank account remained depleted in our pursuit of health.
Now years later, with much education and support from my health practitioners, my supplement shelf is sparse, my body feels amazing and my bank account is full! Why? Because we actually don’t need to take as many supplements as we’re told we do. Supplements are called supplements for a reason – they’re meant to supplement the things that we’re not getting in our diets.
To help provide some clarity around what to take and what to toss, I asked naturopath and author, Dr. Sarah Wilson, who’s philosophy is ‘less is more’ when it comes to supplements, what the best ones are to ensure we’re giving our bodies what they need, without breaking the bank.
There are so many supplements and products being promoted in the industry today. What’s your view of supplements and why should we take them?
Supplements are wonderful when they’re used properly. The truth is though, that they’re called supplements because they’re meant to add on to and improve an already healthy lifestyle. If you’re already eating a healthy, well-balanced diet then, you’re likely already getting so much of what your body needs. Which is why a lot of the things I recommend, don’t always come in pill form and can instead be eaten as a way to ‘amp up’ an already healthy diet.
What’s one of the most important things that you feel we’re not getting enough of?
Hands down, it’s vitamin D. It helps with your immune system, mood, inflammation, and it’s a hormone as well so does have an impact on your hormones.
Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ vitamin D can be especially challenging for North American’s to get a sufficient amount of because we only have adequate sun rays from June to September. This is why vitamin D is so essential because pretty much everyone in North America (even those that take it in supplement form) is deficient in it. On top of that, sunscreen prevents us from making vitamin D, which can also be a challenge, because we obviously need to protect ourselves. This is what makes supplementation so important. If you’re shopping around for a vitamin D supplement my ‘pro tip’ is to ensure that it’s taken in a fat-soluble form (oil capsules or drops) for best absorption and not those chalky tabs.
Are there any other supplements that are widely available that you typically recommend?
I really love Omega-3’s. These days, it’s really hard to get good quality fats in our diets, so having concentrated anti-inflammatory fats in the form of omegas is essential. EPA is a type of Omega-3 that I recommend often because it’s really anti-inflammatory and inflammation is the common plague of modern society. DHA is the other type and that’s really good for women who are hoping to get pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding because it’s really good for brain development. Overall, Omega-3’s are great for things like inflammation, joint pain, brain function, hormonal and immune health which is why I recommend them for everyone.
Gut health is all the rage these days! What are your recommendations to ensure we’re supporting our gut?
Fiber is essential for tons of reasons! However, there are different types of fiber that we should be taking for a healthy digestive system. We often think chia seeds and flax seeds when it comes to gut health, which are great. But I actually like prebiotic fibers like inulin, chicory and acacia. You can get them in food sources as well as powder sources. ‘Resistant starches’ like green bananas are another source good gut fiber and are super trendy right now. The reason being is that these sources of fiber feed the good bacteria in your gut. Everyone is pushing probiotics these days, but the truth is, probiotics should only be taken in specific situations and specific health conditions. Prebiotics should be taken by everyone to help foster the health of the microbiome which are the bugs that live in your gut.
As more research begins to come out, I firmly believe that the bugs on our body control us, in terms of our health, we don’t control them. So, the healthier bugs you have, the healthier person you’ll be. That being said, prebiotics are a great addition to ensure a healthy gut and should be taken daily. You can add the above ones I mentioned to your smoothies, to your cooking, etc. for support with digestion, weight loss, and liver health. Another ‘pro tip’ is that if you respond negatively to prebiotics it’s a good indication that you could have an overgrowth of certain bacteria so it’s important to reach out to your naturopathic doctor to correct that.
Let’s talk about food for a minute because I know you’re a big proponent for getting our vitamins through food first. What are some things that we should be eating to improve our health?
Polyphenols are the brightly coloured foods that we eat and they are incredible for our health and well-being. Think of things with bright colours like berries, cherries, apples and spices like cloves, star anise and cocoa powder. Polyphenols are extremely health-promoting. In fact, pretty much every super food is going to have some polyphenol component to it. They contain anti-oxidants so if you think of oxidation as ‘rusting’, anti-oxidants are going to prevent your body from ‘rusting’ or aging and degenerating. They also reduce inflammation, provide energy, improve digestion, and help with weight regulation, mental clarity and skin health.
Ok are there any other supplements that we haven’t covered that you would recommend?
Yes – adaptogens! No one is getting less stressed in today’s day and age! Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that help modify our stress response, whether physical, chemical or biological.
Some of my favourites are Ashwagandha, Maca, Shatavari, Rhodiola, and Eleuthero which is one of my favourites as it’s also really good for brain fog (and for night shift workers and people who live their lives at all hours). These herbal formulas are phenomenal but they’re extremely powerful so it’s essential that you consult with a health practitioner first before taking them if you have any conditions or are on any medications.
Lastly, I might also suggest Mineral complexes. Our soil is so depleted these days that getting more minerals into our diet is never a bad thing.
Overall, I think that if you can eat a wide-variety of fruits and vegetables and eat a healthy balanced diet, so many of your nutrient bases will already be covered. It’s only in these few areas that most people will find deficiencies in their system, which is why I recommend them as a great starting point. As always, I recommend everyone consult with a naturopath prior to taking any supplements to ensure that you actually need them and that you’re taking them in a dose/form that supports your body effectively.
With love and nut butter,