To Supplement or not to Supplement?

Looking back at prehistoric man’s diet, humans managed to consume a large quantity of vitamins and minerals from natural foods that they found or hunted that was sufficient for their dietary needs.

These cavemen and women had to be active in order to survive, and coped without supplements so why do we rely so heavily on supplements now?

Although the Paleo (caveman) diet includes meat fish and vegetables grown above the ground, plus fruit and nuts, modern day Paleo followers do not always get an adequate quantity of nutrients from their foods, which are not as natural and nutrient rich as they were during the Paleo era 17000 years ago.

Also, if cavemen were satisfied with their diets, it begs the question, why did they go in search of grains and root vegetables, beginning the Neolithic era.

However even though the Paleo diet appears to be natural and balanced, the average age of a caveman was shockingly low at only 16. The average age for a Neolithic man was almost twice as old at 34.

The Neolithic diet includes a wider range of foods and a larger quantity of carbohydrates making up a good proportion of the diet.

This was more sustainable and kept humans fulfilled until the population increased to a point where intensive farming and food production made food more accessible to the masses.

With the population rising to over 7 billion, intensive farming, factory farming where the animals are kept in factories as opposed to fields, often in dark cramped conditions, plus plant breeding, conventional and using genetic modification, are the best ways to produce more food from the same amount of land.

This all leads to a lowering of nutrient content. This has caused a rise in deficiencies and the emergence of diseases of the dark ages.

Although macronutrients such as carbs, proteins and fats can be synthesised or scavenged by the body in times of crisis to meet the basic physiological functions, the dietary vitamins and trace elements are organic and inorganic compounds. These have specific requirements that can’t be met by the body.

There are also vast differences in the micronutrient content of foods grown in and out of season. The storage processes and food production deplete the nutrient quantity further.

Fat soluble vitamins D,A,K,and E are found in oily fish, liver, dark green leafy veg, dairy, soya beans, whole eggs, nuts and seeds.

Water soluble vitamins, B, C Folate, Niacin, Panthenoic acid are found in whole grains, cereals, liver, shellfish, rice and fruit and veg.

Minerals Iron, copper, zinc, magnesium and manganese are found in dried fruits, meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds, root vegetables and cruciferous vegetables.

Tinned fruit and vegetables lose some micronutrients during the heat treatment process such as vitamin C.

If food choices and availability do not allow for a wide ranging diet, ensure your supplements are from a reputable source.

Active individuals obviously require a larger amount of micronutrients than less fit people and so often turn to supplements.

Regular high intensity exercise is extremely stressful on the body, which means a greater demand for certain vitamins and minerals that drive the energy metabolism.

Hormones can be affected by an insufficient nutrient intake so it is important to ensure that the diet is varied and high in nutrients.

Also exercise causes free radical damage and sufficient micro nutrients are needed in order for the endogenous antioxidant properties of the body to mop up the free radicals. Consuming antioxidants aids this process.

Eating an insufficient quantity of micronutrients when training can hinder recovery; even sweating can deplete the body of vital minerals, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron calcium and sodium. A good post training electrolyte drink can be made simply at home by mixing one part water to one part sweetened orange juice and adding a pinch of salt.

Supplements can be used to counteract deficiencies. However cheaper supplements can be mixed with magnesium oxide which can reduce the bioavailability by to up to only 4%, and the rest lost as urine.

Good supplements can cost a considerable amount more and often it is more beneficial to spend more on a wider variety of foods than on a cheap supplement.

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Do You Need to Take Vitamin Supplements?

Sadly our food is processed and not as well made as it was 50 years ago so even with the best diet it is quite likely that you may need some kind of supplement to…well, supplement your health.

Quality Not Quantity

You don’t need to spend a fortune on vitamins but equally you get what you pay for so find a middle ground. The reason the prices vary are two fold. Firstly there is always an element of branding so a supermarket own brand will inevitably be a little cheaper and may contain cheap fillers. Secondly while a supplement may claim to be 100% of your daily dosage it may not be in its most absorbable form so essentially it’ll end up going down the toilet!

Too Much of a Good Thing

Your body can only absorb a certain amount at any given time so if the dosage is 1 a day then adhere to those guidelines. Too much vitamin C can give you the trots. Whilst too much vitamin a could in fact contribute towards lung cancer.

My Essential List for Men

Sunny Delight

Living in the UK we don’t get quite as much sun as we often need. Did you know that if you’re fair skinned you produce vitamin D with a lot less sunlight than someone with darker skin. Therefore if you are very fair you may get all you need from a bright winter morning. However if you’re blessed with the bronze you may need a little help from some Vitamin D during the winter months.

Glucosamine Or Oils

You don’t have to stomach mouthfuls of cod liver oil. There are a lot less fragrant varieties out there including vegetarian ones. For those of you who like to hit the gym it is always advisable to take a little something to keep your joints healthy.

Roses Are Red And So Are Tomatoes

Lycopene is a pigment that gives fruit and vegetables their red colouring. Studies have shown that it contains powerful anti oxidants that protects you from prostate cancer so if you’re not managing a bowl of tomatos a day get yourself some in pill form!

Cross Your I’s And Dot Your T’s

The MultiVit is the one to invest in. I would advise to buy the most expensive one you can afford and ideally consult a nutritionist. This is the much needed icing on the cake.

Lastly, it you take supplements it doesn’t mean you can eat crap, they are exactly what they say on the tin. A supplement, they are not a cure.

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How Can I Raise My Energy Levels?

London Life Coach & Wellbeing Consultant Sloan Sheridan-Williams talks about energy levels. Follow Sloan on Twitter @SloanSW_London and check out Sloan’s website

Thank you for your question on how to raise your energy levels and whether it could be supplemented by diet. As a Life Coach I am not a nutritionist but it seems quite evident from what you’re talking about that your decreased energy levels and decreased immunity may be based on iron deficiency.

I would suggest iron deficiency as my first port of call because of the hair loss, the brittle nails, the fatigue and the fainting and dizzy spells that you’ve been having. It is indeed a most common nutritional deficiency in our modern diet and it’s possible that even as many as 1 in 4 people could be lacking in iron.

Alternatively it could be a B12 deficiency because in addition to the symptoms you gave me you have also expressed that you feel quite angry. By not knowing the other symptoms or potential causes for this, it is difficult to jump to any conclusion with 100% satisfaction, however in a recent study of 100 people the majority of people who were anaemic we also found to be deficient in B12.

Therefore if you do not want to go to the doctor – although I heavily advise that you do – you may find  some relief from having a combined multi-vitamin tablet that includes iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin C. I choose vitamin C to be taken with these tablets, either as part of one tablet or in addition because a lot of what I’ve suggested to you helps vitamin C helps the absorption of such. There are many products available be it from high street shops such as Holland & Barrett and GNC or online reputable companies such as GoldShield and Health Span.

However before you jump on the bandwagon of introducing supplements into your diet, which I know you have suggested, I would highly recommend buying a juicer or blender and trying to find natural alternatives for these vitamins. You will find  that green leafy vegetables also play a part in a lot of the things that you may be lacking so I suggest Googling the items of fruit or vegetable you enjoy and seeing how many of these contain iron, B12, folic acid and vitamin C.  Whatever you can’t naturally increase in your diet perhaps then supplement with nutrition.

In addition it is always good to increase the antioxidants in your system as you have mentioned a decrease in your immune system and these are highly sought after to increase your immunity.

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