There is often much confusion about whether nutritional supplementation is important, necessary and beneficial, or bad, dangerous and a huge waste of money. Firstly, why is this important? Nutrients are essential to life. Every second there are billions of biochemical reactions happening inside of you, and these reactions require nutrients in order to occur efficiently. Without enough nutrients, your body simply cannot function at its best.
I am all for getting the nutrients we need from our food, but unfortunately this is becoming more and more difficult for a variety of reasons. One of these is the declining quality of the soil that conventional produce is grown in. If a nutrient isn’t in the soil, it cannot be in the food. This means that as the soil becomes increasingly nutrient-deficient, so too does our food. Typically, only three nutrients are fertilised back into the soil in conventionally-grown produce – nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. That means there are 52 missing.
One thing we don’t often consider is the accessibility of produce all year round. Many of us are incredibly fortunate to have access to many types of fruits and vegetables year-round. However, a move away from seasonal eating often means we may choose produce that was harvested some time ago, and as plant foods age, nutrient content decreases. So, aside from the environmental benefits, this is another reason why sticking to local and seasonal produce is beneficial.
There are also times in our lives when some nutrients may be required at levels higher than can easily be supplied by food. For example, during pregnancy, if our way of eating omits certain foods, or when we are chronically stressed. Our biochemical stress response depletes certain nutrients. Too many people accept that they are tired and lacking in energy as a result of living busy lives. Sometimes, nutritional support is necessary even if we eat exceptionally well, although research shows that many New Zealanders do not.
Another important consideration is the difference between the minimum intakes required to prevent overt nutritional deficiencies versus optimal nutrient intakes for outstanding health. The Recommended Dietary Intakes (RDIs) are set at the amounts required to prevent deficiency. However, for certain nutrients higher intakes are associated with health benefits. With that said, it is NOT a case of “the more the better” – too much of a particular nutrient can often be just as detrimental as too little.
Nutrition needs to be complete and balanced, so eat well and supplement wisely. It’s vital to understand that nothing in the entire world can replace a highly nutritious way of eating. Supplements are designed to supplement – not replace – a nourishing diet. But not all supplements are created equally. The quality and the source of the nutrients, as well as what they are combined with, all play a role in how your body absorbs and uses them.
Research shows that when nutrients are delivered from a food source, they are absorbed and utilised by our bodies more effectively than when we consume those that have been created synthetically in a laboratory. You don’t want to be wasting money on nutritional supplements that aren’t highly bioavailable or that contain nutrients in inappropriate amounts for your needs, so obtaining individualised advice from an experienced nutrition professional can be very beneficial. They also typically have access to higher quality practitioner-range supplements, which tend to be more effective. Remember, when it comes to supplements, quality matters.