Many of us grow up thinking we need a multivitamin to cover all of our nutritional bases. Since you probably aren’t eating enough carrots or spinach or oranges, you need a back-up plan. Take a few gummy vitamins and you’re guaranteed to meet your nutritional needs, right?
Wrong, of course. There are a plethora of problems with multivitamins, and with vitamins more broadly. Taking vitamins and minerals as supplements to a nutrient-dense diet can be incredibly important for certain people, but supplementation should be intentional rather than haphazard.
Many people take multivitamins or a long list of vitamins based on generalized recommendations from health influencers or maybe even their doctors, but what makes you think you need those vitamins specifically? What issues are you trying to address with these supplements, and have you noticed a difference? And perhaps most importantly, is supplementation the best way for you to get the nutrients you need?
Start with food
Fruits, vegetables, and well-raised animal products contain almost all of the vitamins and minerals we need to thrive in forms and quantities that our bodies are prepared to use. When vitamins are taken in isolation, they are often over-consumed and/or under-absorbed because vitamins are not in their natural form.
Instead of taking an iron supplement, you could make a conscious effort to eat more 100% grass-fed red meat, spinach, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, etc. Instead of taking fish oil, you could try to incorporate more wild-caught fish into your diet. Rather than taking a selenium supplement, you could have brazil nuts and seaweed. And instead of taking a multivitamin, you could aim to eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods! In doing so, most people will meet most, if not all, of their bodies’ nutritional needs.
In the context of a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, well-raised animal products, and healthy fats, the average person should be getting all of the nutrients they need. But some people (including me!) will need extra nutritional support for optimal functioning, and that’s when supplements come in handy. Rather than taking a laundry list of supplements simply because you’ve heard they’re good for you, you should take supplements for a very specific purpose.
The best way to know whether or not you need a supplement (and whether or not the supplement is working for you) is to work with a doctor who can test your nutritional levels and help you choose the appropriate nutrients and doses for you. For example, a doctor could measure your magnesium, iron, vitamin D, and selenium levels to determine if you lack any of those nutrients. If you are taking supplements, your doctor can continuously measure your levels to ensure they are increasing.
Keep in mind that over-consuming nutrients is, at the very least, a waste of money because you pee out any excess nutrients your body can’t absorb, and it can even become quite dangerous in certain cases if the body absorbs too many nutrients and the levels become toxic. Over-consuming nutrients is very hard if you are getting all of your nutrients for food but it becomes very easy when you are just swallowing pills with massive quantities of isolated nutrients.
If you do need to take supplements, make sure that you look for brands that you trust. Many brands use fillers and binders that contain gluten, dairy, soy, sugar, or other gut irritants, which you do not want to be putting in your body every day. ALWAYS read the ingredients on your supplements and choose organic, pure brands as often as possible.
Supplements you may need
At the risk of sounding like a complete hypocrite, I do think there are a number of supplements that many people can benefit from in our modern world. All of the guidelines above still apply, but if you are eating a nutrient-dense diet and still experiencing issues, these supplements may be able to help.
Collagen: most of us are not consuming the collagen-rich parts of animals on a regular basis, and collagen has SO many benefits (read about them here). I take at least two scoops of collagen every day and I have noticed a huge difference in my health. I recommend Ancient Nutrition or Vital Proteins, and I buy mine from Thrive Market.
Probiotics: more and more research is showing that the balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria in our guts pretty much dictates our mental and physical health. In addition to eating probiotic-rich foods, it can be helpful to take a probiotic supplement for a healthy gut. Different probiotic strains can benefit different conditions, and variety is important, so I recommend switching brands regularly to find one that works for you. This probiotic could be a good starting place for you.
Vitamin D3/K2: vitamin D plays an important role in regulating your immune system, mood, circadian rhythm, and more. If you aren’t getting regular, full-body sun exposure (or even if you are), you probably need vitamin D3, which is best absorbed when it is combined with vitamin k2. CAUTION: too much vitamin D can become toxic. I highly recommend testing your levels before you begin supplementation. If it is the right choice for you, I recommend this brand.
Magnesium: magnesium helps our bodies relax and heal. This nutrient is massively depleted by stress, which is why so many of us are deficient in magnesium. Supplementing with magnesium can relieve soreness and/or constipation, improve sleep, and reduce cravings. I recommend Magnesium Glycinate.
Digestive Enzymes: if you are eating an anti-inflammatory diet and still having digestive issues (bloating, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, etc.), digestive enzymes might be just what you need. These help you break down and absorb the food you eat. I recommend Digest Gold.
Targeted, deliberate supplementation can be an important part of healing and optimal functioning, but you should not rely on multivitamins or a slew of vitamins taken without purpose. Start by eating a nutrient-dense diet, and add supplements only as necessary for YOUR body.