“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” (Hippocrates) “If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?” (unknown). “Food can hurt and food can heal.” (Me!) “Real food creates real health” (Me again!). These are some of the quotes and statements that inspire me each day to live the way I do, think the way I think, and work the way I work. The rare person can go through life eating whatever they want, whenever they want, have plenty of energy and vitality and claim to be healthy. When I meet someone who fits this description I am truly amazed, but I also know that the ancestors of this individual must have laid down a great health foundation for him or her to live off of. The scenario is similar to that of an heir to a financial dynasty who is now blowing through the savings before the next generation can enjoy a share in it. In order to keep the riches for those to come, investments need to be made, and spending should be done cautiously. The same goes with one’s health. Invest in eating real food and take good supplements and you will spare the health of your as-yet to be born offspring. What happens, though, when good food sources are scarce or when one has spent their youth using up one’s health reserve? Is it possible to rebuild the foundation for yourself and for your descendants? And is eating whole foods enough to accomplish this task? To supplement or not to supplement? This, my friend, is the question.
I supplement. I like to take supplements. Supplements are my friends. A recent study published by the Natural Products Foundation indicates that Americans spend about $20 billion on supplements each year. Yikes! That’s a heck of a lot of money. Is it helping? It is for the small percentage of us who know what to look for in a supplement. For the rest, it can actually create new issues in the body. You see, most vitamins on the market are synthetic and fractionated. What does this mean? Scientists in the pharmaceutical industry have some “funny” habits. First they determine that a specific food is good for some aspect of achieving health. For example, citrus fruits are anti-scurvy and enhance the immune system. This discovery isn’t really good enough for these scientist types though. They’ve got to know exactly what part of said food is doing all the heavy lifting or pushing the magic buttons in the body. Then, since there isn’t much money in recommending the addition of oranges to the diet, they have a deep-seated need to chemically reproduce some part of the orange. So, they do a study. From the study they decide that ascorbic acid (a component of the vitamin C complex) is what we as humans need to fulfill our vitamin C requirements. However, “…..to say that ascorbic acid is vitamin C is like looking at a wheel and saying that it is an automobile, while it is just a small part of an automobile.” (John Courtney) A true vitamin C supplement will include bioflavinoids, rutin, vitamin K, vitamin J (bet you never heard of that one!) and enzymes. In other words, you need the whole car in order to get anywhere!
I bet, right about now, you are saying to yourself (or out loud to your computer screen), “Christina! You just proved that I only need to eat whole foods! No supplements!” You do need to eat whole foods. Absolutely. 90-95% of the time, every bite of food should have some meaning to it and have a positive effect on the body. However, when you have chronic aches and pains, digestive issues, fatigue, hormonal problems, skin problems, headaches, etc… you could work on healing yourself only with food but, it’s going to take A LOT longer to accomplish than if you supplement with concentrated whole-food supplements. And even then you will probably only break even. You still need to build up your reserves.
Whole-food supplements are whole foods with only the water and fiber removed. They are processed below 112 degrees F so the natural enzymes are still active, and whole-food supplements have a limited shelf life. They contain all of the nutrients required by our body to meet the needs of our cells and in some cases may even help nourish and restore the function of organs and glands that are tired and worn out.
Most vitamins sold at the drugstore, Costco, and even places like Whole Foods are synthetic vitamins and they do not come from food. For example, ascorbic acid typically comes from corn sugar to make vitamin C. Thiamine comes from petroleum or coal tar products to make vitamin B…. Do you see where we are going here? Not only are these vitamins not usable by the body, but the required co-factors are taken from your own body’s reserves in an attempt to use them and now you become nutritionally deficient. There is no long-term benefit here for your body or your wallet. Taking synthetic, fractionated supplements is like flushing your health and your money down the toilet.
And while we are on the subject, working with a qualified nutritionist is a good way to determine which supplements your body truly needs. Many of us are in the habit of reading health-related articles in the newspaper, a magazine, or on-line and decide that we need whatever supplement happens to be the darling of the media and which promises to keep us young forever. When you are eating whole foods and taking whole-food supplements you are getting all the “media darlings” and more so, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are missing something. And when things are not quite right in the body, a qualified holistic nutritionist can help you find the root of the problem and help you to bring your body back into balance.
To supplement or not to supplement? Have I answered the question?