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.

Image reproduced from triathlon.competitor.com

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About Nadia Tejani

Nadia Tejani lives in Surrey and works as a Personal Trainer specialising in weight management and obesity. She is also a Sports Massage Therapist and fitness model. Nadia runs marathons and does Olympic weightlifting and she has been competing nationally in Natural Figure (Bodybuilding) competitions since 2008. Nadia has a degree in Pharmacology and is qualified in Nutrition. She sticks to a strict clean vegetarian diet and practise what she preaches! Nadia has 3 dogs, a tiny horse and 2 pygmy goats.

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