Basic Nutrition Supplementation
In addition to a “whole food” phytonutrient-rich supplement we suggest, you should also consider adding a broad-spectrum high-quality multivitamin, multi-mineral supplement every day, as recommended in a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (1) Today, we will teach you all about what to look for in a multivitamin!
Please note it is not absolutely mandatory that you add a supplement, because the food you eat is far more important to your overall health. However, we truly believe they fill in nutritional gaps and offer benefit.
A multi-vitamin is designed to work in combination with a clean diet and proper exercise. No pill can substitute for good nutrition, and you can’t find the benefits of exercise in any bottle. This being said it is our belief, and the belief of esteemed organizations such as the American Medical Association, that select vitamins, minerals and essential fat supplements complement even the most healthful diet.
Surely you have seen vitamin content expressed in percentage terms on the labeling of the packaged food products you purchase. These reference daily intakes (RDIs) for vitamins and minerals are adequate for maintaining life and adequate for preventing rare diseases caused by severe vitamin deficiency. These RDIs are not necessarily adequate for attaining optimal health.
Young, healthy adults who eat nutrient and plant-rich “whole foods” diets can remain almost optimally healthy whether or not they consume supplemental amounts of the vitamins and minerals we recommend. But these people are in the minority. Any individual who fits into any one of the categories listed below in Table 1 will benefit from supplementation. Many people find they fit into several of these categories and therefore have significantly increased nutritional needs. Nutritional supplementation is therefore of special importance.
Table 1: People Who Significantly Benefit from Nutrition Supplementation
- Men over 35
- Women over 45
- Growing children or growing teenagers
- Pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant
- Nursing mothers
- Cardiac patients
- Competitive athletes
- Persons under severe mental or physical stress
- Burn victims
- Anyone with an active infection
- Athletes or heavy exercisers
- Heavy drinkers and recovering alcoholics
- Anyone recovering from surgery or an injury
- People suffering with an autoimmune or inflammatory condition
- People taking prescription medications (including birth control pills)
It is important to note that many prescription drugs increase your vitamin requirements substantially. The drugs most often implicated include antibiotics, chemotherapeutic drugs, drugs used to prevent pregnancy and seizures and drugs used to treat inflammatory conditions. Steroid drugs such as prednisone are particularly likely to increase vitamin requirements. A detailed discussion of this subject is beyond the scope of this article, but we encourage you to read up on or ask your doctor about any prescription drugs you take. Always make sure your overall health is not compromised in a misguided attempt to treat an isolated symptom.
As a bariatric surgeon, Andy believes vitamins, minerals, “whole food” phytonutrients and essential fat supplements can play an important role in weight management too. Along with other nutrition experts, Andy in part blames our obesity epidemic on malnutrition. Blaming obesity on malnutrition may seem contradictory, but malnutrition has nothing to do with how many calories you eat. Malnutrition means not getting the nutrients your body needs. If you over-nourish yourself with nutrient-poor, processed foods, you’ll find yourself overweight but malnourished and lacking essential nutrients.
In addition to contributing to food cravings, malnutrition interferes with your metabolism. You can’t burn fat effectively when the proper nutrients are not in place to fuel fat-burning. If your body is properly nourished, it will have an internal monitor that regulates appetite, maintains a healthy body weight and burns fat. On the other hand, malnutrition slows your metabolism. Specifically, deficiencies of the essential fats, vitamin C, and calcium slow your metabolic rate substantially. A sluggish metabolism is a surefire way to get fat and stay that way.
Of course we are also well aware of the studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showing multivitamins are not effective at preventing chronic disease too. But it is important to point out that the studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine were flawed for one big reason; researchers looked only at the use of a multivitamin as a way to prevent disease when in reality disease-prevention is considerably more complex and involves numerous lifestyle habits such as diet, stress management, weight management, drug and alcohol intake, etc.
The Purpose of a Multivitamin
The purpose of a multivitamin is to fill in nutritional gaps and provide optimal levels of vitamins and minerals (note: it is well established that the vast majority of Americans fail to obtain adequate levels of certain nutrients.) To expect a multi-vitamin to prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease solely from taking a multi-vitamin is asking a bit much, wouldn’t you say? But unfortunately scientific research studies usually study a single substance to determine what, if any, effect it may have on a single disease, when in actuality the real science is considerably more complex.
So, we are not about to tell you that taking a daily multi-vitamin is the number one key to disease prevention, but we absolutely DO think it plays a role. Especially because common factors such as stress and aging can increase your body’s need for certain vitamins and minerals. Taking a daily multivitamin can also help optimize the way you look and feel, curb food cravings by filling nutrient gaps, enhance energy, optimize your immune system and so much more. That is, if you know what to look for in a multivitamin. But no, a multivitamin is not a miracle cure-all. Think of your multivitamin, multi-mineral supplement as a daily insurance policy. Everybody needs one, the problem is which one to choose?
If you head to your natural foods store you’ll see a plethora of supplements lining the shelves, each one seemingly better than the next. You might just be tempted to buy the one that contains the most “stuff.” But when it comes to nutrition supplements, more is not always best. A multivitamin, multimineral supplement should complement your anti-inflammatory clean diet, but you don’t want to go overboard. Getting an excess of certain nutrients such as iron, selenium, and copper can be toxic. Keep reading for what to look for in a multivitamin!
What to Look for in a Multivitamin
Alongside not getting too much of a good thing, it’s equally important to choose supplements containing the best ingredients. Just like you should read the ingredients list on the foods you buy, you should do the same with supplements. Here are some tips for what to look for in a multivitamin!
Avoid supplements containing synthetic forms of vitamin E (dl-alpha-tocopherol).
You don’t even want one that contains just one of the natural forms of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol). Ideally, your supplement will reflect how vitamin E functions in food in nature, in the form of mixed tocopherols. You may see research linking vitamin E supplementation to negative health outcomes. This is because alongside other flaws, the research in those studies didn’t account for the type of vitamin E taken. Supplementing with a reasonable dosage of natural vitamin E in the form of mixed tocopherols is safe. It’s also an important strategy in reducing overall oxidative stress, which slows the aging process.
Avoid supplements with isolated carotenoids
Research has linked taking isolated beta-carotene to increased risk of lung cancer (in smokers anyway). However, isolated beta-carotene is not something you would ever find in nature in your food. In food, you would obtain mixed carotenes. That’s exactly what you want to look for in a supplement.
Avoid supplements containing synthetic folic acid
Instead look for one containing folate, which is the form naturally found in foods like green vegetables.
Balancing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K is also critical.
This is because when you take one fat-soluble vitamin you increase your body’s need for the other fat-soluble vitamins. For example, one of the roles of vitamin D is to activate osteoblasts (bone-building cells) to increase bone density. One of the roles of vitamin A is to promote bone breakdown so that new bone can be laid down.
Although these processes seem to oppose each other they are both necessary to maintain bone health. Vitamins A and D work closely together and if you take one you need to take the other. Also, taking vitamin D will increase your need for vitamin K2. (Note: Vitamin K2 is not the same as the vitamin K1 that is easy to get from dark leafy green vegetables; K2 is not easy to obtain from the typical diet.)
There is an intimate relationship between fat-soluble vitamins, and they all play a vital role in optimizing health. Unfortunately, mainstream foods do not supply adequate amounts of vitamins A, D or K2, so supplementation is especially important.
It’s not always wise to supplement with iron
This is unless you are being supervised by a physician, and being treated for a specific problem such as anemia or are pregnant. Iron is crucial for oxygen transport and other physiological processes. However, in excess iron is an oxidant that may contribute to cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline in older adults.
Copper quantities are often too high in multi-vitamins
Copper is another nutrient that is often added to multi-vitamins in relatively high quantities, which can potentially lead to toxicity. Additionally, studies have shown excess copper to be associated with a lower antioxidant status and reduce immune function.
Bioavailability is important
And of course the bioavailability of the nutrients in your supplement is also important. This is because if your body can’t absorb and use what you ingest, then why bother taking it? For example, minerals have a wide range of bioavailability, depending on the form they are in and what they are bonded to; chelated minerals are the absolute best because they are well absorbed by your body. As another example, if your supplement contains vitamin C, it also needs to contain bioflavonoids or you won’t be able to fully absorb the vitamin C. Bioflavonoids also boost the activity of vitamin C once it has been absorbed.
Vitamin B-12 Concerns
If you are following our Clean Cuisine diet closely, the one potential drawback to eating less animal foods in your diet is that you could possibly shortchange yourself on vitamin B12. This will not be an issue for most people because Clean Cuisine is not a vegan diet. However, because some individuals need extra B12 and because some people do not effectively convert B12 supplements into the bioactive form their body can use, if you are a strict vegan you should consider looking for a high-quality B12 supplement in the form of methylcobalamin.
NOTE: Vitamin B12 is water soluble so you don’t need to worry about overdosing.
The “Perfect” Multivitamin
Picking the “perfect” multivitamin, multi-mineral supplement is not exactly as easy as picking which flavor of bubble gum you like best. We have put together a breakdown of approximately what you want to look for in a multivitamin for a daily basis in a downloadable PDF.
Download the Clean Cuisine Multivitamin Guide (pdf): Click HERE
Do Try This at Home: Quick Quality Control Test for Vitamin Supplements
The best vitamin in the world won’t do a body much good if it doesn’t release its ingredients. For your body to absorb the nutrients from your vitamin supplement it must first disintegrate (“break apart”) and dissolve (“go into a liquid solution”) in your gut before the contents can be absorbed and entered into your bloodstream. Vitamin pills that do not disintegrate properly may not release all of their ingredients for absorption, and ingredients may go unused. Although only one measure of quality, you can check at home whether your vitamins are disintegrating properly with this simple test:
- Place the vitamin pill in a cup of water heated to body temperature (about 99 degrees) and let it sit, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes while keeping the water warm. During that time, the pill should completely break apart, with its contents either turning to a powder or dissolving in the water. Note: this test is not meant to work for chewable, enteric-coated or timed-release pills.
Multi-vitamins can be a great health in your health journey, that is, if you’re taking the right one. We hope that today’s article helped you learn exactly what to look for in a multivitamin, and helps set you on the right track when it comes to supplementation.
1. Fletcher RH, Fairfield KM. “Vitamins for chronic disease prevention in adults; clinical applications.” JAMA. 2002 Jun 19;287(23): 3127-9.
Sunday 18th of January 2015
What recommendations would you make for little ones? Mine are ages 1 and 2. Thanks! Wanda
Wednesday 21st of January 2015
Hi Wanda, Oh there are definitely NOT many on the market! Pixie Vites by Dr. Fuhrman are VERY good though! It comes in a powder form, so that makes it easy to give to small children. I really like that it is whole food based and that there are no mega-doses of anything. Here is the link: http://www.drfuhrman.com/shop/pixievite.aspx#details The only thing extra you might want to consider is a bit more vitamin D (you can give drops). I would also definitely do a probiotic and fish oil (Nordic naturals makes a liquid fish oil that actually does NOT taste like fish).
And of course you can always give extra phytonutrients from whole food "supplements" such as Juice Plus+ (the capsules can be opened and added to liquid), Barlean's Greens (which comes in a powder), Amazing Grass (also in a powder), etc. Hope this helps?