12/26/2006

supplemental health

my local natural foods grocery store has been sneaking these natural health and nutrition glossies into my grocery bags, which appear to be advertisements for the dietary supplements industry, stamped with the name of my local grocery at the top (i've seen the same ones at other stores, with that shop's logo instead). clearly there's a whole side of natural living that i've never really explored, as i tend to overlook the supplement aisles when i'm doing the grocery shopping.

in fact, i've never given supplements and multi-vitamins much thought, mostly because i aim to meet my nutritional needs through diet, even if that means eating more fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in iron and calcium and whatever else i need. i eat best when i make a conscious effort to incorporate a panoply of nutrient-rich foods into my everyday meals -- unfamiliar vegetables, more leafy greens, new and interesting whole grains like Bhutanese red rice or quinoa -- so i'd rather focus on eating a healthy, nutritious diet than load up on supplemental pills and powders.

still, i can see the appeal in wanting to ensure getting sufficient vitamins or minerals in my diet especially those like Vitamins E, D and B12, which i may not consume enough in the course of my plant-based diet. and it probably is beneficial for me to eat more yogurt with live active cultures, and garlic and red wine -- but the medical benefits of many supplements remain unclear, especially since they aren't regulated by the FDA and therefore aren't required to stand up to any kind of medical testing (not that the FDA has inspired my confidence in the pharmaceutical industry, either).

but what bothers me about these faux nutrition rags is how they emphasize taking a supplement or vitamin as a quick-fix for a variety of ailments and conditions -- from herb extracts for migraine pain to managing holiday stress with fish oil or consuming more probiotics. the sense i get from the medical community is that supplements are most beneficial for people whose health is compromised in some way, and require the additional nutrition to address dietary problems or restricted activities. but like many industries, i imagine the natural health business can't make sufficient profit targeting people who actually need to incorporate supplements into their diets. all of which leaves me feeling suspicious about these slick broadsides in which it's difficult to distinguish the articles from the ads (for an example, check out Natural Living, which is about what I have in mind).

so am i alone in my suspicions, and do most of you who consume a healthy, plant-based, organic or natural diet also include supplements and extracts? which ones do you use and why? i'm curious to hear about other people's views and experiences with dietary and health supplements.

1 comment:

Susannah said...

I eat mostly veg as well (although I've recently incorporated fish back into my diet, after ~15 years of veg-ism), and I think I do a better job than most of getting a varied diet of mostly-whole (i.e. unprocessed) foods, but I do take a few supplements.

* B-complex with C. I always hear that if veggies are missing something, it's in the B family, so I go ahead and take one every morning for good measure.
* Iron. From all the blood tests I've had and times I've tried to donate blood, I've seen that I'm constantly on the brink of anemia. (I also think that this is what causes (a) my general tendency to get cold very easily, regardless of the high amount of exercise that I get, and (b) mosquitoes' love for me.) I've done lots of reading on anemia and realized that being a veg makes you a prime target: not only are animal sources of iron easier to metabolize, but animal sources of iron make plant sources of iron easier to absorb. I take this along with the B/C vitamin, since C aids in the absorption of iron (while calcium blocks it).

I wish I could be sure that I'd get all my 'nutrients' (after reading that Pollan article in the NYT this feels like a dirty word) via food sources, and I still do work towards that - that is, I don't depend on the supplements to be the source, and then assume I can slack in the eating department. On the other hand: better safe than sorry.

On another note, I'm pretty picky about who I get my supplements from, having read a number of reviews that indicated that a lot of the labels lie about the actual contents in the supplements.

- susannah.