Should I take supplements or not?
There is some truth to the assertion that supplementation has become necessary due to the fact modern agricultural practices don’t preserve the quality and nutrition of the soil, and hence, the abundance and diversity of nutrients in our food has declined since the introduction of synthetic fertilizers. This is bolstered by evidence that organically grown foods have been shown to have a greater density of nutrients. Thus, my recommendation is to choose organic foods, and create a diet that is naturally rich in nutrients, including fresh vegetables, grass-fed organic meats and organ meats, wild fish, sea vegetables and culinary herbs. Supplementation may be necessary however in a conventional diet, also known as the “Standard American Diet”, or SAD for short. For these people, taking a well-balanced multivitamin and mineral, along with essential fatty acids, seems like a good insurance policy – but in my estimation, still falls short of a healthy, sustainable approach. In my new book, Food As Medicine: The Theory and Practice of Food, I describe how to create an optimal diet based on the patterns described in traditional medicine. One key supplement that I frequently recommend however is vitamin D3, since it is very clear that we are not getting enough. Mostly this is because we spend less time outside, and when we do, we cover our bodies in sunscreen for fear of developing skin cancer. But it is also due to the fact that we don’t eat foods rich in vitamin D3 anymore, including oily fish and foods made with blood (e.g. blood sausage, black pudding). Such foods at one time formed an important part of the traditional diet.
I do use supplements in my practice, but I have become increasingly concerned about their quality, particularly because many of the starting ingredients are industrial chemicals (e.g. niacin). Wherever possible, I recommend whole food supplements. The key thing to be aware of is that whole food supplements rarely contain the same strength as conventional vitamins. True – they might be absorbed better, but they might not have the same therapeutic potential unless they are taken in very high dosages, which makes the costs involved prohibitive. This is why a dietary-based approach makes the most sense.