Many clients come to me with impaired digestion and other such complaints like IBS, and the first stage in addressing this is understanding that it’s not simply about what you eat, but what you absorb that matters in relation to your health.
My main advice is to focus attention on buying the best quality food before relying on supplements to get the majority of your minerals and micronutrients, however modern diets have near enough destroyed the nutritional status of the general population. As such, there are a few essential supplements I recommend most people should include in their daily regimen when trying to stay as fit and healthy as possible. Yet we must be mindful that they are by their very definition supplementary and we should use judiciously. Make sure not to fall into the trap of thinking they are essential or prioritise them over a well-rounded diet.
There are many factors that can influence an individual’s specific vitamin and mineral requirement, such as age, biological sex, medications, current diet, activity levels and so on. As previously discussed, we recommend regular testing to understand your blood chemistry and allow correct supplementation for you to stand the greatest chance of functioning at an optimal level.
Nevertheless, these are general supplements and guidelines that could assist you in the first instance.
A multivitamin is exactly what it says on the tin; a vast array of vitamins and minerals to try and plug any small but critical nutritional gaps in your diet. An all in one, which serves as a great fundamental supplement to attempt to improve the quality of your intake.
I prioritise omega 3 consumption over omega 6 as, in industrialised regions such as ours, our diets tend to contain fewer foods that naturally contain omega 3 and more with omega 6, skewing the balance our body needs to thrive. Omega 3 fats are important for many reasons: they are anti-inflammatory, they keep our cells healthy, improve insulin sensitivity, improve cardiovascular function, nervous system function and immune health. Omega 3 can be found in foods such as fatty cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout, algae, flax, chia, hemp and walnuts.
Most of our vitamin D can, and should, come from the sun. When consuming vitamin D supplements; D2 and D3 are not equal when raising your overall vitamin D status. Both are effectively absorbed into the bloodstream, but the liver metabolises them differently.
Vitamin D is required in immune system function, regulating glucose tolerance, blood pressure and teeth and bone health. When aiming to fulfil requirements from food, look to include fish, egg yolks, mushrooms, shrimp and beef liver.
Magnesium is essential for many processes throughout the body yet most people don’t get the basic dietary requirement. Low level magnesium deficiency might play a role in hypertension and type 2 diabetes, so magnesium consumption is very important. Magnesium is involved in carbohydrate and fat metabolism, DNA and protein synthesis, and can also have a calming effect, making it useful for helping muscle cramps, anxiety and sleep quality. It can be found in beans, legumes, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, cacao, whole grains and potatoes.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. This is due to many factors, but potentially the main two reasons being; iron from plant-based sources isn’t as easily absorbed as from animal sources and over the past few years we have seen a huge shift towards vegan diets. Also, women need iron to support menstruation and pregnancy but tend to have less iron rich foods in their diet due to the fact that they are more likely than men to be plant-based eaters or restrict their food intake in general.
Iron is involved in oxygen transport and storage in our bodies, forming red blood cells and blood vessels, energy production, cell and enzyme health. In terms of food sources, we can get it from meats, fish, beans, legumes, dark leafy greens, raisins, whole grains, peppers, potatoes, seeds and much more. Make sure you partner your iron intake with vitamin c for greater absorption.
Vitamin B12 is involved in nerve cell and red blood cell health, as well as DNA synthesis. For this reason, a lack of B12 can lead to neurological problems as well as fatigue, depression and an array of other symptoms. As it is found solely in animal-based sources such as fish, beef and dairy, if you are a plant-based eater, a B12 supplement is crucial.
Zinc is involved in growth and development, neurological function, reproduction, cell health, immunity as well as a whole host of other benefits. It can be taken as a supplement along with magnesium under the name ZMA, but is found naturally in beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, meat, eggs and mushrooms. However, supplementary iron has been shown to potentially impair zinc absorption so please keep this in mind.