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The Best Supplements for Optimal Health

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Dietary supplementation is a popular, but often misguided way of achieving good health & fitness. Many people take products thinking that they are free to scarf down as much junk food as they want since a supplement is supposedly making up for their nutrition & lifestyle deficiencies. The reality is that it simply doesn’t work that way.

A supplement is just that; a supplement to a healthy lifestyle. No supplement will do anything close to what a diet based on ample fruit & vegetable consumption will for health, weight loss, performance, & vitality. But why? How come an orange is a better source of Vitamin C than a Vitamin C tablet? Aren’t they same?

The short answer is no, they’re not. While natural foods may not contain as much of a given vitamin or mineral substance as a manufactured supplement, it is much more likely that your body will absorb what’s found naturally through food much better (this is part of the reason why supplements contain such high amounts of a given nutrient, because in all probability, very little of it is actually being absorbed). The reason for this is in the interplay of the water, fiber, and the other macro & micro nutrients found in the food in particular ratios. In addition, since supplements are manufactured, the materials used to manufacture the product as well as the refining process contribute to the body’s inability to maximally absorb the supplement.

Long story short, live a healthy lifestyle and most, if not all, of your needs will be taken care of.

With that being said, many of us have some holes to fill regardless of how well our nutrition & lifestyle practices are. This list is based on those circumstances often found in the daily lives of most people, assuming those people are eating, hydrating, sleeping, & moving adequately.

Vitamin D
The natural source of Vitamin D for humans is from our skin’s absorption of sunlight. This is the best route for acquiring Vitamin D, but it is often impractical for us to achieve. A lot of us spend the majority of our day inside, so it becomes easy to lack enough sunlight exposure to produce Vitamin D. Many foods are fortified with Vitamin D as a result, but a lot of those foods have other aspects that we want to avoid (i.e. most of them are junk food and dairy products). A well produced Vitamin D supplement can be handy here, especially for those living in climates that are predominantly overcast, especially if you are fair of skin.

Vitamin B-12
It’s common to associate a supplementary need for B-12 with only the vegan population. B-12 deficiency is really a societal issue, and us vegans are as entrenched in society as everyone else. Yes, animal products contain B-12 (it’s produced naturally in the gut of all animals, humans included), but due to the burden that animal foods place on the body, the result is that our ability to manufacture & absorb our own B-12 is compromised. Other factors play into this as well such as polluted air & water, stressful living, sedentaryism, and overtraining.

Since at least one of these factors is a reality for most of us, it’s not surprising to learn that nearly 1/3 of American adults have been diagnosed with a B-12 deficiency (who knows how many more have one who haven’t been checked for it also). Some recommend the consumption of ocean vegetables (seaweed, kelp, dulse, etc.) for fulfilling our B-12 requirements, but I disagree because there’s research to indicate that this is not true B-12, but a substance similar to it that will block absorption of real B-12 if consumed in abundance (I also feel that, as land creatures, we’re not meant to be eating stuff from the seas).

Like Vitamin D, B-12 is fortified into many different processed foods. The only one of these that I would recommend is nutritional yeast, but pretty much all of the others are either junk food and/or animal products at their source. Unless you have access to rich, fertile soil to grow your own produce, it’s likely that you’ll benefit from supplementing your diet with B-12, whether you are vegan or not.

Multi-Vitamin/Multi-Mineral
I recommend Vitamin D & B-12 individually above a multi because if you’re eating adequately, you’ll already have ample amounts of everything else and it’s likely that a multi could give you too much of something (too much iron tends to be the most common issue in this regard). Still, a multi can be a good idea, especially if you’re unable to eat an adequate amount of food that day. If you’re a bodybuilder, model, or athlete dipping into prolonged calorie restriction, consider a high-quality multi.

That’s it. There’s a plethora of other products designed to support weight loss, hormone optimization, muscle gain, detoxing, etc. but really, I feel that these are either highly specific to a given activity, or they can be accounted for with a healthy lifestyle and are thus unnecessary. Where possible, one should make the effort to pursue any nutritional deficiencies through a change of lifestyle (for example, forgo a Vitamin D supplement for 10-20 minutes of sunlight exposure across the majority of your body). But when that isn’t a practical option, strategic use of high-quality supplements can be a nice addition to address your body’s needs.

Until next time…

Keep it strong, keep it vegan.
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