The market is full of natural supplements, and many of our friends and family take them…but why take supplements?
There are nutrients – macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and other substances – vital for our wellbeing, a variety of metabolic processes, and the optimal functioning of our organs and body systems. They include:
- P R O T E I N
- F A T
- W A T E R
- F I B R E
- V I T A M I N A
- V I T A M I N C
- B V I T A M I N S
- F O L A T E
- C A L C I U M
- I O D I N E
- I R O N
- M A G N E S I U M
- P O T A S S I U M
- Z I N C
Our bodies typically attain these nutrients through the foods we eat (more so if we eat healthy, whole foods…and less so if we don’t), and there is a particular daily dietary intake level required in order for us to meet our nutrient requirements. This level can vary based on our gender, age, life stage, and when pregnant.
You can work out your Recommended Dietary Intake of nutrients using one of these calculators: the ‘Daily Nutrient Requirements Calculator’ or the 'Nutrients & Dietary Energy Calculator’
Our body’s ability to absorb and process the required nutrients is not only affected by where we’re at in life, but also by our habits; if we’re not eating wholefoods and overloading on the junk foods, if we’re vegan or vegetarian, breastfeeding, in the middle of a heavy period, crash dieting, avoiding particular foods, suffering from a malabsorption condition like coeliac disease, smoking cigarettes, or drinking more alcohol than the recommended maximum… our nutritional demands will be higher, and we’re going to struggle to get the nutrients essential for a healthy life.
If we’re not getting the nutrients we need – aka we’re deficient – the first port of call is a change in our diet. As you’ll notice, a lot of the foods recommended below are great sources of more than one of our essential nutrients; just another reminder that eating a healthy diet full of real, wholefoods every day can help us reach our recommended dietary nutrient intake easily.
1. Protein is found in lean meat, poultry and fish, and in eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans. Proteins consist of amino acids, and make up approximately half the weight of human bodies. They serve our bodies by producing energy and by forming new proteins, hormones, and enzymes. Our bodies can’t actually store proteins – therefore we must ensure that our diet is supplying adequate amounts of protein daily.
2. Sources of healthy fats include avocados, fish, nuts and seeds, and plant-based oils – extra virgin olive, nut and seed oils. Unsaturated fats such as the above can, among other things, lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels.
3. Fibre keeps our digestive system healthy, and can also help balance glucose and cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre can easily be increased via an increase in fruits, vegetables, barley, psyllium and flaxseed, and can aid in lowering “bad” cholesterol levels. Sources of insoluble fibre, such as the skins of fruits, wholegrains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and brans, create bulk allowing the prevention of constipation and haemorrhoids.
4. Water – you should be consuming at least 2L a day. Don’t forget!
5. Vitamin A can be found in foods such as fish and fish oils, dairy products, beef livers, sweet potato, spinach and carrots. This vitamin is important for reproductive and immune function, as well as for vision.
6. There are several B Vitamins essential for optimal health.
Vitamin B1, or Thiamin, is important for cell function, energy production, and growth and development. It can be found in wholegrains, meats, fish, legumes, seeds and nuts.
Vitamin B2, Riboflavin, functions similarly to B1. Good sources of riboflavin include eggs, organ meats, and green vegetables.
Good dietary sources of Vitamin B6 are poultry, fish, organ meats, and starchy vegetables such as potato. It is essential for metabolism, immune function, and brain development through pregnancy and infancy.
Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy nerve and blood cell function, but it also aids in the creation of DNA. Dietary sources include meat, liver, eggs and dairy.
7. Folate is actually another B vitamin, and is found in vegetables, especially leafy greens, oranges and other fruits, nuts, beans, and wholegrains. Folate is essential for our bodies to make DNA and other genetic material.
8. Vitamin C plays an important role in immune function, collagen production, and protection from free radical damage as an antioxidant. Also known as ascorbic acid, it is found in high levels in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, red and green capsicum, tomatoes, and broccoli.
9. The body requires Calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, but calcium is also essential for muscle, nerve and blood function, and for the release of crucial hormones and enzymes. Milk, yoghurt and cheese are great sources of calcium, but fear-not vegans: kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage are good too.
10. Iodine can be found in fish, shrimp, seaweed, and dairy and grain products. This nutrient plays an important role in thyroid hormone production. Thyroid hormones are responsible for controlling metabolism, as well as for brain development in both pregnancy and infancy.
11. Iron is required for growth and development, as well as for the creation of haemoglobin and myoglobin (blood proteins carrying oxygen throughout the body), connective tissue, and hormones. Eat more lean meats like kangaroo and beef, seafood and poultry, or kidney beans, white beans, green lentils, spinach and chickpeas to increase your intake.
12. Magnesium, found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, milk and yoghurt, is essential for many bodily processes. Healthy muscle and nerve function, stabilisation of blood pressure and blood sugars, and bone, protein and DNA creation all require magnesium.
13. Potassium is essential for healthy heart, nerve and muscle function, and can help to lower blood pressure. Leafy greens, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, pumpkin and root vegetables are all great sources of potassium, but it can also be found in peas, beans, tree fruits such as bananas, meats, and dairy products.
14. Zinc is an essential nutrient for many reasons. Oysters are the best source of zinc, but red meat, seafood and poultry are also good sources of this nutrient. Beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy products provide some zinc too. An adequate intake of zinc is essential for a healthy immune system, growth and development, wound healing, proper senses of taste and smell, and for the creation of proteins, DNA and other genetic material.
Supplements can’t cure illness – but what they can do is provide a boost and ‘fill in the gaps’ of our dietary nutrient intake. If you feel that you may be deficient in one or more nutrients, and that increasing your dietary nutrient intake is not helping with any of your symptoms of ill-health, supplementation may be an option for you.
The best possible herbal or nutritional supplements are those prescribed by a qualified natural health practitioner according to your individualised treatment plan. There are many science-based, natural formulas available to provide quality nutritional support, and in purchasing and consuming practitioner prescribed (or ‘practitioner only’) supplements you are avoiding those that may contain ingredients of lower bioavailability, a higher allergen potential, and contamination.
A good naturopath or nutritionist will not only look at resolving any deficiencies, but at why your body may not be absorbing nutrients properly.
References: Better Health, Nutrition Australia, U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements, Australian National Health & Medical Research Council.