Weight Loss Wednesday: Being Supplement Savvy

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In my practice as a dietitian, I get a lot of questions about supplements, and its really not hard to see why.  Many supplement labels have lists of long-scientific sounding words, and are backed by incredible sounding claims. I find that even some of the most diehard of long-term supplement takers often have a hard time telling you what their supplements are supposed to be doing.  So I am spending this week’s blog post breaking down supplements into what they are, what they aren’t and how they might be beneficial to your fitness goals.

The Supplement- What It Is, What it Isn’t

Supplements are defined as something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. READ: they should not supply your entire intake of the nutrient you are focusing on. Taking fish oil? Great, just don’t think you now do not have to eat fish. Taking B complex? Cool, just also make sure that you are getting some from your lean proteins as well (unless you’re a vegan, then you need to ramp up the beans and peanuts).

Ok. Now that you’ve absorbed the idea that you need to still, like actually eat, we can start talking about the main subject. As we get started, let me be absolutely clear- you do not have to take supplementation of any kind if you don’t want to. This is just mean to be a guide to finding your way- should supplementation be something you are interested in. OK? Good talk, kid. Let’s get started.

Omega-3 Supplementation

What it Does:  This product contains fatty acids (called EPA and DHA) that are thought to help reduce inflammation in the body. If you eat a ton of deep sea fish, seafood and lean, pasture-raised meats, it is a good chance that you wont need this.

Probiotic Supplement:

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What it Does:  Probiotics are basically the “good” bacteria that colonize your gut. They function in general immunity, gut health and improving conditions that involve inflammations such as eczema, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome. If are experiencing chronic GI symptoms,  have recently been on antibiotics or have any of the afore mentioned conditions, these might be a good idea for you, as they help your guts be healthy, happy and functional.  Don’t feel like popping more pills? Lacto-fermented veggies like kimchi and natural sauerkraut are good choices.

Protein Powder:

What it Does:  This one is perhaps the most commonly used supplement. While protein powders provide an easy to get down, lean protein source, they are no means designed to be a stand-alone option. As well, they are often made from vegetable sources such as rice, soy and hemp, which absorb less well than animal sources, such as lean meat or chicken. These are great for before a workout, but shouldn’t replace other quality protein sources at meals.

Multivitamin:

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What it Does:  The multivitamin is designed to stop up the gaps in your diet. Even if you are eating a relatively large portion of whole foods, your diet could still be lacking in vitamins and minerals. In fact, if you are: under stress, taking medications that might interfere with your nutrition, training really hard at high volumes, restricting whole food groups (such as when you are a vegetarian) you should look into getting one of these babies in on a daily basis, as all of the above conditions make you more likely to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

The take home message here is simple: treat the above supplements as possibilities for reinforcing weak areas in your diet, not as the essential foundation that it should rest on. Evaluate if any of the supplements could really help you with an area that you just can’t seem to manage (Vitamin D instead of sunlight exposure, e.g) and incorporate them in a moderate fashion into your nutrition plan. Make sure you aren’t using them as a crutch to make up for lack of consistency and get back to work. Consistency is key, with nutrition and with everything else.