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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where do you source your nutrients?

The other day I went to the vitamin store to see if they could give me any insight regarding natural sunscreens. As I walked out the door I noticed a stand holding many copies of two different magazines, both free. Never one to turn down free material on nutrition, I took one of each. I flipped through them on the way home (Chris was driving) and noticed why they were free- they were put out by two supplement companies. The articles were about studies showing that apple extract extends life span, benefits of B complex, etc. After presentation of the material, an ad would follow with the company's take on that nutrient in a pill form.

Then yesterday, I came across information about folic acid, of all things, being harmful. Folic acid- the same thing doctors tell pregnant women, those trying to conceive, and nursing moms to supplement! (source) (Turns out, our bodies need FOLATE, which folic acid is supposed to become in our bodies. Folic acid has always been tested on rats, which have the ability to change the folic acid.  We don't have the ability to do so to the same extent, and the excess folic acid can be somewhat toxic to humans. Yikes! Here are whole FOOD sources of folate.)

For a while, I have thought vitamins should only be supplemental to a nutrient rich diet full of fruits and vegetables, an "insurance policy" if you will. I do take supplements, but none are taken daily. I just feel my diet is high in most nutrients I need already. I stopped taking a prenatal every single day before my last pregnancy- I only take it occasionally when I feel like I need a boost. This wasn't always the case though; there was a time recently I took B complex, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, Omega 3 and 6 AND a multivitamin daily! I think it is safe to say, I was probably overdoing it.

So what do I currently take, and how often? Well, I use hemp powder in my smoothies, for the protein. I also use nutritional yeast a great deal- I make sauces and dips with it, and sprinkle it into smoothies and over salads. I use it as a source of B vitamins, mainly B12. However, I don't really consider either of these things supplements- they are really whole foods that just so happen to be high in key nutrients I need.

Sometimes- not more than twice a week maybe- I use supplements for vitamin D, vitamin A, Omegas, and Vitamin C, all of which are liquid/oil based. I just blend them into a morning smoothie if I feel I have been lacking in any of those nutrients.

I take probiotics, but not the way most would. The probiotics I buy come in a powder form that must be refrigerated. I make my own raw vegan yogurt with nuts and coconut and use this powder to ferment it. When I don't have yogurt in the refrigerator or I am not in the mood for it, I also make my own raw sauerkraut. I make both of these (instead of buying them) to ensure they are raw. I believe this is important because once something is pasteurized (like most yogurt would be) bacteria are killed, including the good bacteria known to us as probiotics. Conventional yogurt that has "live and active cultures" advertised is either a myth as that yogurt has been pasteurized, or manufacturers add probiotics after this process.

But could I save myself the trouble and just take nutrients in a pill form, thereby allowing myself to eat whatever I want? While my gut (ha) feeling is no, I thought I would do some reading on the subject and share my findings.

The biggest take away I came up with is that whole foods have enzymes and cofactors that are essential in assimilating the nutrients in our bodies. A supplement may contain as much vitamin C for example, as an orange, probably more so. However, that supplement won't have all the enzymes and cofactors it takes for the body to actually use that nutrient. (source)

Ever wonder why your urine is such a strange color when taking vitamins? I always reassured myself it was a harmless side effect- that it indicated my body used what it needed of the nutrients I just gave it, and is excreting the excess. After all, your body does not store extra away when it comes to all nutrients. Vitamins can be either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) are not stored away for later- your body uses what it needs and flushes out what is left. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) move through the body by way of the lymphatic system and the blood stream to be used where needed. Whatever is left is eventually stored in tissue, and generally stays there. So, one can have too much of fat soluble vitamins with dangerous side effects, but this is less common with water soluble vitamins. (source)

But when you see evidence of "excess" vitamins in your urine, it may not be excess at all. Cheap, low quality tablets have a coating that hinders absorbtion; the nutrient may not be fully released into your blood before you excrete it, or it is released in the stomach where the acids destroy it. When you drink a liquid form of a vitamin, it may be no better- the liquid enters the stomach and again, the acids destroy the nutrient. Your body may not have assimilated anything- and it may very well be money flushed down the drain.

So, if a supplement is necessary, it looks like a tablet form IS best. But only if it is a good quality tablet that survives the stomach acids and makes it to the upper intestine, where it can be absorbed into the lining and enter the bloodstream. (source)

All this means (to me, anyway) that I really can't fall back on supplements. All the more reason, in my mind, to pay very close attention to what we eat. This might take some work, but I think it is worth the effort.

Do you take any supplements? How do you ensure you get all the nutrients you need? Or do you eat a varied diet, trusting it is providing enough of everything? Discuss!

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