Why Food Isn’t Enough: What Vitamins and Supplements Should I Take for My Nutrition?

Food and nutrients on a table

Nutrition Today Is Not Simply Just Eating Healthy

Can you get all your nutrients from food alone? Some researchers say no, claiming that optimal amounts are “often unattainable solely through a well-balanced diet” and that everyoneshould take nutritional supplements.

Even if you’re eating our Core or Advanced Plans — rich in healthy fats, protein, and nutrient-dense carbohydrates — you might not be getting optimal amounts of specific vitamins and minerals. Take vitamin E: Three national surveys show that most Americans’ diets provide less than the recommended levels of this antioxidant vitamin.

In fact, two case studies concluded that only supplementation combined with a healthy diet could “significantly boost nutrient levels and confer beneficial effects on general welfare, physical performance, and resistance to infections.”

“There are four main reasons we are nutrient depleted,” says Mark Hyman, MD, in The Blood Sugar Solution. (We’ve numbered but kept Hyman’s reasons intact.)

  1. We have evolved from eating wild foods that contain dramatically higher levels of all vitamins, minerals, and essential fats.
  2. Because of depleted soils and industrial farming and hybridization techniques, the animals and vegetables we eat have fewer nutrients.
  3. Processed, factory-made foods have no nutrients.
  4. The total burden of environmental toxins, lack of sunlight, and chronic stress lead to higher nutrient needs.”

While the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than two billion people worldwideexperience essential vitamin and mineral deficiencies, Americans rarely suffer overt deficienciesin specific nutrients these days.

That doesn’t mean we’re getting optimal amounts of these nutrients. Numerous culprits can impair nutrient absorption and increase nutrient losses. Among them include alcohol abuse, chronic and acute illnesses, stress, and self-imposed dietary restrictions (such as extreme diets or eating disorders). These and other obstacles mean we’re not always getting the idea amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Expensive Urine or Optimal Nutrients?

A multivitamin-mineral (multi) makes an ideal solution to cover the nutrient bases that you might not be getting from even the healthiest diet.

You might have heard multivitamins only give you expensive urine. But you want expensive urine.

You might be urinating out other ingredients. Many store-bought multis contain nasty additives such as FD&C Blue #2 Aluminum Lake and

Titanium dioxide that gives those supplements — and possibly your urine — color.

When you excrete water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C, that means you absorbed that nutrient and your body excreted whatever it doesn’t need. Your body is well-nourished, has nutrients to spare, and can perform all its duties that require vitamins and minerals.

Taking a multi fills those “relatively small but critical nutritional gaps” you might not be getting from food to help you cultivate vibrant health and well-being.

Science Shows Supplements Work

Whether we want more energy, better brain function, stress management, or all of the above, studies show a multivitamin can help you meet those and other goals.

One randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial gave 215 middle-aged males either a multivitamin containing a high amount of B-complex vitamin or a placebo. Researchers found significant improvements in stress, mental health, brain function, and physical vigor among the group taking a multivitamin.

Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial — this one among 50 middle-aged men — found that compared with placebo, a multivitamin/ mineral/ herbal supplement improved alertness, significantly reduced mood imbalances like anxiety and stress, and supported overall wellbeing.

Those benefits don’t take long to achieve. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial study with 58 healthy adults aged 18 – 40 found taking a multivitamin/ mineral for four weeks significantly improved mood compared with a placebo.

Chronic stress can deplete B vitamins, and researchers here partly attributed those mood improvements to elevated levels of B vitamins from the multi.

Consistently taking a multivitamin can help maintain those and other benefits. One 16-week study among 138 healthy young adults taking a multivitamin with high levels of B-vitamins had significantly reduced stress, physical fatigue, and anxiety levels compared with the placebo group.

“[I]f you truly want optimal health—if you want to build upon that healthy diet and supercharge your health for the long haul—then think of supplements as a high-tech delivery system for the nutrients your body needs to thrive,” say Jonny Bowden, Ph.D. and Steven Masley, MD, in Smart Fat.

Magnesium: Food Alone Often Isn’t Enough

Magnesium provides a great example of why even if you’re eating nutrient-dense foods, you might not get enough of this crucial mineral.

Without sufficient magnesium, none of our cells could function. That’s because over 300 enzymes require this crucial mineral that contributes to protein synthesis; muscle and nerve function; blood sugar control; blood pressure regulation; energy production; and so much more.

Green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds — all staples in our Core and Advanced Plans — are among the good sources of magnesium. Yet surveys show that for most people, dietary intake is lower than recommended amounts for this mineral.

In fact, most people are at risk for magnesium deficiencies, which are often undiagnosed. Medications, chronic illnesses, lower amounts in whole foods, and eating refined professed foods can all exacerbate the risk for deficiencies.

While statistics vary, researchers argue nearly half of all Americans (and 70 – 80 percent of people older than 70) aren’t getting enough magnesium. Some demographics have a higher risk. Researchers found magnesium deficiencies, for instance, in 84 percent of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis.

These deficiencies can increase your risk of illness and contribute to high blood pressure; heart disease; type 2 diabetes; osteoporosis; and migraines.

What is the Right Supplement to Supplement Your Diet?

When you choose a multivitamin, you’ll often find the Daily Value (DV) listed on the label. DVs are usually equivalent to the RDA or Adequate Intake (AI) for that nutrient.

In 2016, the FDA revised Daily Values for certain vitamins and minerals, which had not been previously revised since 1968. Based on current scientific recommendations, the RDA increased certain nutrients such as magnesium while lowering others like zinc.

While many studies use a once-a-day supplement for their data, to get optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals you’ll want to look for a supplement that includes around two or more capsules per dose.

The best-quality multivitamins combine optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals in their correct ratios with other nutrients like polyphenols and herbs that target specific conditions like stress management.

Because of this mineral’s bulk, even the highest-quality multivitamins might not contain much magnesium. You’ll want to supplement with this mineral separately.

Ultimately, a quality, professional-grade multivitamin (or really, any supplement) is designed to complement, not take the place, of a healthy diet. Even if you’re taking a magnesium supplement, for instance, you’ll want to incorporate plenty of foods rich in this vital mineral into your diet.

“Remember, dietary supplements are exactly what they’re billed as—supplements,” say Bowden and Masley. “They are supplemental to a good diet and a healthy lifestyle, not a substitute for them.”

On the other hand, a multivitamin can efficiently and cost-effectively cover nutrient gaps you might experience. Think of a multivitamin as an inexpensive health-insurance policy!

Always stick with the daily recommended doses when it comes to supplements, and always discuss any modifications with your healthcare practitioner. Too much of a good thing is — Well, not a good thing. Consider magnesium: Taking too much can create problems including diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping.

A Multivitamin and Other Nutrients

A multivitamin provides an excellent foundation to complement your healthy diet, and a few other supplements can round out and optimize those benefits.

“Studies show that deficiencies in basic nutrients, such as vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants, promote inflammation and that simply taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement is as effective for lowering inflammation as taking a statin medication, with a lot less expense and fewer side effects,” says Hyman in The Blood Sugar Solution.

At the very least, talk with your healthcare practitioner about taking:

  • An omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Chronic inflammation drives almost every modern disease. Whereas today we eat about 20 times more inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, our Paleolithic ancestors ate an equal ratio of omega-3s and omega 6s. An omega-3 fatty acid supplement can help balance those levels while providing anti-inflammatory and many other benefits.
  • Most of us don’t’ get enough of this mineral, and considering its many benefits (a cofactor in over 300 enzymes!), supplementing becomes essential. Liquid magnesium makes a great, easy-to-use option. Magnesium can also be calming, so consider taking this mineral before bed or when you’re stressed out.
  • Vitamin D — “Vitamin D deficiency is being called a ‘silent epidemic’ by many nutritionists these days, many of whom don’t believe we get nearly enough of this cancer-fighting, bone-building nutrient,” says Bowden in The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Ask your healthcare practitioner for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, which provides a good indication of your vitamin D levels. Supplementing can help optimize those levels.

These supplements, combined with the Core or Advanced Plans as well as lifestyle factors including optimal sleep (consider a sleep supplement if you have trouble falling or staying asleep) and the right exercise create a simple, but powerfully effective plan to stay lean and healthy at any age.

While this plan needn’t feel overwhelming, a chiropractor can help you customize your supplementation and other recommendations and address specific health concerns that complement your primary healthcare practitioner.

Discuss including these and/or any other additional supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.