Supplements are all the rage these days. It seems that unless your pantry is filled with acai berries, spirulina, mutli-vitamins and protein powders, you are a)not as healthy as you could be and b)not as cool as you want to be. Lots of people ask me for my opinion on these often expensive, but seemingly beneficial dietary additions. Do we need them? Are they worth it? Well, to that I say….it depends – who are you? What is going on in your body? What is going on in your life?
If you are consuming a nutrient-dense diet with lots of variety and are relatively stress-free and have no massive health conditions (e.g. cancer) going on, then I would say no, for the most part, you don’t need them. There are certain circumstances however when one may need a little extra boost in the form of a supplement if they do not have access to, or choose not to consume, the actual food, or if the food they are consuming is from sub-optimal sources.
So, for the purposes of this post, you are free from life-threatening health conditions and your stress and sleep are OK. I will address other circumstances briefly at the end.
Now, what we are going to do is play a game of “Would you rather….” But instead of “Would you rather go on a date with Johnny or have a quick pash with Billy” (my answer is neither by the way – I’m married, silly), this is going to be more like “Would you rather consume this nourishing food or spend a shite load more on this expensive supplement??”. Can you see where I’m taking this, peeps?
1. Would you rather spend $50 on a jar of isolated probiotics in capsule form or $10 on some sauerkraut?
Now I’m not denying that we need probiotics…we definitely do need those bugs in our belly and with today’s lifestyle factors, such as stress, alcohol, dodgy food and medications (both over-the-counter and prescribed), there is an even greater need to get the goods back to balance. Why? Well, here is a little list, but more and more research is coming along with other reasons why we should cherish these little critters and obtain them from fermented food sources:
- Aid digestion – this is particularly important for anyone who suffers from irritable bowel syndrome or anything similar
- Improve immunity – 80% of our immune system is in our gut!! If our gut is not happy, neither will the rest of our body and this can manifest in a myriad of ways, such as infections, colds and flus, skin rashes….
- Boost your mood – your gut and your brain are intricately linked – if one if out, so is the other, which is why you need to work on getting BOTH healthy in order to experience optimum health. If you think about it, when you are really nervous, you get nervous runs, right? Or is that just me……awkward…..
- Boost your mood factoid #2 – 95% of serotonin is located in the gut – if your bugs aren’t happy, then neither are you!
- Increased amounts of vitamins and minerals in foods, such as biotin, nicotinic acid, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin B12 (note to vegetarians!!!)
I could go on, but there are more questions in this game. If your answer to this one - “I would rather some sauerkraut please, as these fermented foods sound much more beneficial than taking a probiotic in a pill”, then good job! You have passed level one (when did this game become a quiz???!).
For more on fermented foods (what they are, how to make them, why you should care) simply do a Google search, or two excellent resources I would recommend are Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions, and http://www.wildfermentation.com/. I’m actually going to make some Ginger Carrots from Sal’s (I’m going to pretend we’re friends) book this afternoon. Watch this space!
If, however, you are against the idea of sauerkraut and/or other fermented foods, then yes, I would probably recommend taking a good quality probiotic supplement, but remember – whole food will always be better than any of its individual components.
2. Would you rather take a calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus supplement, along with a joint supplement, a digestive aid, a cold and flu tablet, and wack on some anti-cellulite cream to top it off, OR have some bone broth?
Seriously folks, bone broth is the cheapest super-food on the planet! Not only is it an excellent source of calcium, which most people I know are concerned about, and other minerals, it is rich in gelatin, which helps to heal the gut and treat intestinal disorders such as Chron’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Other benefits of bone broth include:
- Improving joint health – reducing inflammation and symptoms of arthritis
- Minimise cellulite – the collagen in the broth helps to reinforce the collagen layers in our body, thus preventing the occurrence of Mr Orange Peel.
- Like fermented foods, broth can improve immunity and help to prevent or shorten colds and flus.
- Glycine, an amino acid in broth, helps to aid in muscle recovery, and improve digestion by increasing stomach acid secretion, which is required for the proper breakdown and hence absorption of foods
- Gelatin can also improve skin and nails, aid sleep, and help reduce sugar cravings
- It is so so very cheap, even when using the best quality bones. I think each batch I make costs me around $5, and that makes about 4L. What?!!?
This kind of sums up how I feel about bone broth….just substitute “bird” for “broth”…( know it doesn’t rhyme, but whatever – just enjoy it already!)
Oh how I love Family Guy.
Anywho - I have started having bone broth daily and I’m absolutely loving it! I have it first thing in the morning or in the afternoon if I am feeling a little peckish before dinner, in fact I am having a mug right now! If you don’t want to drink it straight-up, use it to add to soups and stews instead of crappy store-bought stocks which have lots of added nasties and are devoid of all benefits.
By now you are probably thinking I’m a bit of a weirdo, but trust me on this friends, these foods are the goods.
Now, if you said “I would rather bone broth” then good for you! Here is a recipe
**Recipe – Nourishing-oh-so-good-superfood-your-grandma-was-right-bone broth
First of all, you need yourself a slow-cooker. Seriously, how many times do I need to say this? It will revolutionise your life! OK – got it? Good. Now in your slow cooker (the bigger the better – ours is 6.5L and digital), add the following:
- ½-1kg bones from organic, grass fed animals (I think beef tastes best, but all are good)
- 2 organic celery stalks, chopped
- 2 organic carrots, chopped
- 6 small cloves organic garlic, smashed (this is important to do BEFORE chopping to release the beneficial phytochemical (P.S: “Phyto” = “plant”. You’re welcome
- 1 organic onion, chopped
- Sprigs of fresh herbs – rosemary, thyme and sage work well but I’m sure you could add in whatever you like
- Kelp or other sea vegetable for trace minerals that are hard to otherwise find, such as iodine (very important for thyroid health and foetal development)
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup organic apple cider vinegar (this is essential for drawing the minerals out of the bones)
- Filtered water – enough to cover everything.
Instructions: throw everything in the pot. Cover. Cook on low for around 20hrs. Allow to cool and then strain off the liquid (including the fat) into glass storage containers. Refrigerate. A really good broth will go like jelly, however I have thus far only managed to do this with beef bones, so if you find the secret to the others, then let me know (I have heard chicken feet work wonders….hmm).
3. Would you rather an expensive synthetic multi-vitamin or a teeny bit of yummy pate?
Firstly, a word on multi-vitamins: I’m not a doctor, so you don’t have to take my advice if you don’t want to, but I would generally not recommend taking a multi-vitamin. In fact, I believe they can be potentially dangerous and/or useless. If your urine is bright yellow after taking a multi-vitamin, chances are you are not absorbing half of the vitamins in that supplement. That’s some expensive pee! Also, most multi-vitamins have multiple vitamins….ha! I know, I know very obvious. However, the multiple vitamins that are in these little pills often compete with each other for absorption. For example, zinc, copper, calcium and iron all compete with each other, meaning you will probably end up with either none at all (once again – expensive excrement) or you may potentially cause a deficiency, although deficiencies are more likely when you take supplements in isolations, such as zinc. When it comes to iron, taking it in supplement form can be quite dangerous. Our bodies generally have a mechanism to take up just the right amount of iron as we need it, both from animal and plant sources. If our iron stores are full from animal sources of iron (haem iron, which is readily absorbed), then we will not absorb the iron from plants (non-haem iron). An exception to this rule is those with the genetic condition known as haemachromatosis. The problem with supplements is they can override this block and be readily absorbed and can potentially cause iron overload, which can be incredibly damaging, and even fatal!!
But what about if you are iron-deficient? Well, the answer to that my friends is liver (check out this story from my friend Roni)! Liver is an excellent source of iron, along with many other important nutrients which are often lacking in our diets, including:
- Fat-soluble vitamins A and D
- Essential fatty acids
- Choline – for an excellent explanation of why you need this baby, check out this post by Chris Kresser
- Rich source of anti-oxidants
- Vitamin B12
- Tryptophan – an amino acid which acts as a precursor to serotonin (happy chemicals!)
This list is not exhaustive. Liver is a serious super-food that you should start incorporating into your diet, especially if you are trying to conceive. I have started enjoying chicken liver pate with vegetable crudités. Sadly I have been sworn to secrecy on the recipe as my friend Soulla, who concocted it, plans to have it in her recipe book in the future. However, check out http://www.chowstalker.com/offal/ for some fantastic ideas on ways to add some liver to your diet.
Note: liver is a very concentrated super-food that does not need to be eaten every day. 85-100g per week is plenty.
4. Would you rather spend $50 on Acai berry powder or spend it on something worth-while?
I realise I am not going to be making any friends in the supplement industry from this post. Oh well. Someone needs to say it.
Do we need anti-oxidants? Yes. Yes we do. We need anti-oxidants to protect us from damaging molecules called “free-radicals” which can cause oxidation in the body (hence the term “anti-oxidants”). These free-radicals, if left to their own agenda, can cause damage to lipids (fats) in cell membranes, DNA and proteins.
Where do free-radicals come from? Everywhere – our body produces them, we eat, drink and breathe them, we absorb them. Holy crap! Give me some of that Acai berry!!
Stop. Breathe. Listen.
Thankfully, our bodies have their own anti-oxidant system. Yes, that’s right, our body, when healthy, is perfectly equipped with a fully-functioning anti-oxidant system, which is quite capable of halting the oxidation process. So, not only do we not need to consume extra anti-oxidants, supplementing can actually cause more harm than good. There is evidence to suggest that if we consume too many anti-oxidants in supplement form, not only can they potentially become pro-oxidants in the body (bad. Very bad), but they can cause the body to stop/slow down the production of its own anti-oxidants (again – bad. Very bad). Same goes for vitamin C.
I will say, though, there are certain circumstances when one might need to consume more anti-oxidants, such as cancer. I am not at all in a position to suggest this as a treatment however, but if you are suffering from such a condition, or you know someone who is, I suggest you head over to http://www.thewellnesswarrior.com.au/ and read about how Jess is using The Gerson Therapy to heal her body of cancer without chemotherapy. Full on, but nothing short of amazing.
So, by now you are probably thinking I’m some weird hippy chick, but to be completely honest with you, I am not currently taking any vitamin/mineral/anti-oxidant supplement and I have never felt better! Not to mention I am saving money for a fabulous 2 month adventure at the end of the year! So, take what you will from this post – if nothing else, I hope I have enlightened you on the benefits of eating a variety of traditional whole foods. While I do have more to say on this topic, including supplements I do recommend, I’ll save it for next time.
And to finish off with a laugh (and a bit of a piss-take), I give you The Bondi Hipsters (it’s relevant…maybe):