These days, you don’t have to be a nutritionist or dietician to have a general idea of what you should be eating. There are literally thousands of reliable books, websites, and other sources of information telling you much the same thing you were taught back in elementary school.

First, there was the older, somewhat confusing U.S. Department of Agriculture graphic called the food wheel, which turned into a pyramid. They have since been replaced by a new model of healthy eating known as MyPlate, which is a simple visual tool reminding us what the best food groups are and the relative portion sizes to consume.

Knowing this, however, is only half the battle. To say that maintaining a healthy diet is challenging would be a colossal understatement.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, about three-quarters of the population has the following eating pattern:

Low in:
– Vegetables
– Fruits
– Total grains
– Protein foods

High in:
– Added sugars
– Saturated fats
– Sodium

And while a study by The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that Americans are eating healthier compared to several years ago, many are choosing to use supplements to help fill nutritional gaps that their poor diets can’t. This has led to a massive growth in the dietary supplement market over the last few decades.

One question is this: are we using nutritional supplements correctly?

Common Types of Dietary Supplements:

1. Vitamins
There are 13 essential vitamins. This list includes vitamins A, C, D, E, K, Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenic Acid (B5), Vitamin B6, Biotin (B7), Folate (B9), and Vitamin B12.

With the exception of vitamin D, which our bodies can make with the aid of adequate sun exposure, we need to get vitamins either from the food we eat or by taking supplements.

Multivitamins like those we offer provide 100% or more of the recommended daily intake for all of these essential vitamins. Most of the vitamin A is in the form of beta-carotene, a safe alternative to taking high levels of the retinol form. Beta-carotene is also a good antioxidant.

2. Minerals
Essential nutrient minerals for humans are sometimes divided into macrominerals (those needed in larger amounts) and trace minerals.

Macrominerals include calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, sulfur, and chloride. There is some debate as to how many trace minerals are essential, but a partial list includes iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine, chromium, molybdenum, selenium, boron, and cobalt.

You can get most of these from the multivitamins we recommend, while Sustained Release VitalMag and our Protein Shakes are good sources of potassium. Most women of childbearing age need iron to make up for losses during menstruation, so our womens’ multivitamin contains iron. Most men and postmenopausal women do not need (and should avoid) taking supplemental iron, unless tests have detected iron deficiency anemia. Therefore, Men and Gold formulas do not include iron.

3. Proteins and Amino Acids
Proteins are chains of amino acids, an essential part of all living organisms. Nine amino acids are considered essential because our body cannot produce them, including histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Our Energizing Soy Protein and Life Energizing Shakes contain a full complement of all essential amino acids (together with non-essential amino acids) in a nearly ideal ratio and highly available form.

Protein, because of the amount recommended daily, is typically not provided in supplement form, but rather in a food form such as a bar or shake.

4. Fatty Acids
Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, are considered essential fatty acids (EFA) because they cannot be synthesized by humans. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), meanwhile, can be synthesized from ALA, but due to a low conversion efficiency, it’s best to obtain them from dietary sources as well.

Our Omega-3 product provides a full spectrum of seven ultra-pure pharmaceutical-grade omega-3 essential fatty acids, primarily EPA and DHA. Most people get more than enough omega-6; rather than seeking additional omega-6, read labels to reduce omega-6 while increasing omega-3.

5. Probiotics
Often referred to as “good bacteria,” probiotics are live microorganisms that help keep your digestive system healthy. You already have trillions of these in your gut. However, having too many of the “bad” bacteria—often as a result of an unhealthy diet—can cause an imbalance that may lead to weight gain, skin conditions, constipation or diarrhea, and various chronic health conditions. Taking probiotic supplements like Optiflora DI can help restore intestinal flora balance.

Dr. Bruce Daggy says: “Many important nutrients are not considered essential and therefore lack a recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or the softer estimate of needed intake, called the Adequate Intake (AI). Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids are one example; the two carotenoids important for eye health, lutein and zeaxanthin, are another. Plant sterols, which can lower cholesterol have no RDA; nor do polyphenols.

The lack of an RDA doesn’t mean scientists believe these molecules are unimportant;

there may not be enough evidence to agree on the requirement or governments may simply not have allocated the money to convene experts to seek a consensus view. Good supplement companies look to the best available evidence to decide not only on the need to provide essential nutrients, and at what levels, but also those nutrients for which the authorities provide little or no firm direction.”

Why Use Supplements?

1. Poor Diet
Regardless whether by choice (difficulty maintaining good eating habits) or due to circumstance (lack of available food with specific nutrients), a majority of us are simply unable to meet the RDA for multiple nutrients considered necessary to maintain good health. Diets that eliminate entire food groups can also create nutritional deficiencies.

2. Increased Need
Advanced age, pregnancy and lactation, and external factors such as stress and exposure to pollution and other contaminants may increase our nutritional requirements. In addition, taking medications and drinking too much alcohol can also deplete our body of certain vitamins and minerals.

3. Genetic Predisposition
As discussed in our last article about nutrigenomics, our unique genetic makeup may require us to load up on a particular nutrient more than the next guy. But since this science is still relatively young and genetic testing is quite expensive, many rely on family history to determine whether they are predisposed to any type of medical condition.

4. Disease
Metabolic stress caused by our body’s efforts to overcome disease, recuperate from surgery, or recover from trauma can have a significant effect on our nutritional needs. This is well documented, and meeting these needs has become an accepted part of medical practice.

Dietary supplementation can be beneficial if any of these factors are present in your current situation. It becomes even more important when one or more of these factors overlap. While you should not rely on supplements alone to stay healthy or use them as a substitute for healthy lifestyle choices or medical treatment when necessary, supplements can play a valuable role in your holistic approach to better health.

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