We all know that eating well is the foundation for good health - there are no shortcuts to success on this front. But, what is less well known is that even with the best intentions and a very balanced diet - many of us still fall short of optimum nutrient intake.
And this isn’t just because we are eating the ‘wrong foods’ it’s simply because of the environment we live in and the nature of modern life.
But, don’t despair - this is where targeted supplementation fits in. Whilst we always want to promote a food-first approach, there is now a greater need than ever to support a balanced diet with an appropriate and effective supplement regime.
Here we explore which nutrients we are often lacking and how to maximise our health with specific supplementation.
What Causes The Nutrient Gap?
A number of factors lead us to less than optimal nutrient stores - these include intensive farming techniques, poor soil mineral levels, and the way we live our lives. Here we delve a little deeper into the main causes:
Soil Nutrient Depletion
Unfortunately, soil nutrient depletion means that even when we eat seemingly nutrient-dense food such as dark green leafy veg, nuts, and seeds, we may not be getting as much goodness as we would have several years ago.
In fact, studies show that the level of selenium and magnesium in soil samples from the UK and Europe is now considerably lower than just 20 years ago (1).
Of course, we still gain a lot of benefits from eating these foods, such as fiber and other antioxidants, but it just means that perhaps we can’t rely on these food choices to provide us with all that we need anymore.
In an ideal world, we would live in a perfect state of harmony - low stress, pure water, and fresh air.
Sadly the reality is that the world we actually live in is a little different - we are often overworked and unslept, and chronic stress can greatly increase our requirements for key nutrients such as Magnesium and B Vitamins.
We are also exposed to a range of ‘anti nutrients’ - factors that alter our ability to fully absorb and benefit from nutrient availability, these include heavy metal exposure, dioxins, and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Many of us are also not in perfect health - we may suffer from acid reflux, IBS, or other GI disturbances, all of which can interfere with our optimal nutrient absorption.
For example, if we receive treatment for acid reflux, this often involves the use of proton pump inhibitors which reduce our stomach acid levels. This means we don’t absorb key nutrients such as Vitamin B 12, from our food.
Many of us have also turned to a more plant-based way of life. Whilst this approach to eating has many benefits - increased fiber and antioxidant intake, as well as environmental benefits, we also have to be aware of the nutrients we can fall short of, without careful meal planning.
Finally, there are other lifestyle factors that might influence our need to supplement - for example, if we are hitting the gym hard of undertaking intense exercise, then in addition to topping up our B vits, we might also benefit from protein powders or creatine to aid recovery and muscle growth (3).
How to choose your supplement regime
Start with the basics
- In line with ‘closing the gap’ between nutrient intake and ideal nutrient status, we can take a well-rounded, comprehensive multi vit/ mineral. This will ensure we get the foundational nutrients in which may be lacking on a day-to-day basis.
- Top up on your Omegas - we normally all have enough omega 6 in our regular diet, but often lack the correct ratio of omega 3 to 6 which can have detrimental effects on our inflammatory status and brain health. This is especially true for vegans who only get omega 3 in the less effective ALA for, without supplementing with marine algae.
- Watch your Vitamin D - in the northern hemisphere we need to take Vitamin D every day from October - March and for those people with darker skin or who spend a lot of time indoors, this may be required year-round. Look for the D3 form for greater effectiveness.
Add in extras relevant to you
- If you have recently been on a course of antibiotics then replenishing your gut with some suitable probiotics is a good bet.
- If you menstruate and avoid red meat then you need to watch your iron stores - fatigue and exercise intolerance suggests you might need to get checked.
- If you are under stress or find it hard to drop off at night then consider adding in some Magnesium and B Vitamins into your supplement regime
- If you are exercising at a high level and long duration then additional protein powder and creatine may enhance your performance.
Of course, all of this is to be layered on top of an already optimized diet. There will be days when we just have to grab and go, and in part, your supplement regime will support the occasional deviance from a naturally nutritious diet, but in the main aim to:
- Fill up on fiber - complex carbs and a variety of plants will give you the prebiotics you need to feed your good gut bugs, as well as keeping you regular
- Keep things interesting - we want a diverse diet in order to benefit from the full range of nutrients and phytonutrients on offer, so try adding spices, herbs, and experimenting with international cuisine options
- Think nutrient density - some of the best options are eggs, liver, dark leafy greens, dairy, and legumes.
- With nutrition, a food-first approach is key, but specific supplements can help to ‘bridge the gap’ between what we take in and what we really need.
- Lifestyle factors and soil mineral levels can reduce the level of nutrient intake we get from our food.
- Supplements such as multivits, omega 3’s and Vitamin D can offer good foundational nutrient support
- Some people may also benefit from specific additions such as Iron, Probiotics and Protein.