I once had a cupboard full of a hundred different powders, pills and potions – I had the creatine, the nootropics and the bizarre Chinese herbs – this interest hit its high water mark when I raced the Ironman triathlon; I fuelled the entire race on 1 x 750ml bottle of liquid science that included blended up wasps, turmeric, engineered corn starch, concentrated ketogenic oils and probably something called the X factor.
On some level all this tinkering was fun, but it was also expensive, tiresome and, I now believe, largely ineffective and unnecessary.
With the recommendations below I hope to save you some of the wasted time, money and energy by simplifying recommendations to a sensible level.
Because yes, it's sensible to supplement.
My approach here includes some whole foods based nutraceuticals (greens powders and organ meat) as well as what you would think of as typical supplements (capsules in a plastic bottle).
For the latter I am borrowing recommendations from functional medicine Dr. Chris Kresser. Chris is a G and I've learned a ton from him. For several of the nutrients listed below I've included questions from a program of his that'll help you determine whether you should supplement or not.
A few reasons to supplement:
- The reality is that our foods are not of the quality they were before intensive industrial agriculture began depleting our soils. Key micronutrients like trace minerals and vitamins have declined steadily in the produce we eat.
- We're also eating a much smaller variety of species (average 30) compared with hunter gatherers (average 200)
- Unless local most of the foods we eat are shipped long distances which further reduce the amount of nutrition our diet contains.
- Today, environmental and social pressures demand more from our physiology than ever before. Stress, chronic fight or flight nervous system activity, and higher toxic exposure burns through micronutrients,
3 principles of sound supplementation:
- Get nutrition from food first: When I think of my diet, the goal is still to get all of my nutrition from the food I eat. Then, I think of the supplements I take as a sort of safeguard that acknowledges the unique demands of the times we live in.
- Take nutrients in their naturally occurring form vs synthetic varieties. Because... common sense but also, Half of North Americans take multivitamins loaded with these types of synthetic compounds (such as beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E) but a study in JAMA, one that covered 68 trials and 230,000 participants found these supplements might actually increase risk of illness.
- Be selective. The problem with multivitamins is that they usually contain too little of the beneficial nutrients like magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2, and too much of potentially toxic nutrients like folic acid, calcium, iron and vitamin E. So rather than a multi vitamin/mineral I think it's best to choose specific nutrients in the highest quality form.
The big idea: eat a responsible ancestral diet + a few bio-available supplements that are in their natural form because of the unique demands of our times.
GREEN SUPERFOOD POWDER
AKA SALAD IN A TABLESPOON
Because the cornerstone of any diet that is worth its salt is plants. I aim to get clients eating a salads worth of vegetables at every meal – but sometimes you're fasting, and sometimes you're just not able to get this volume of vegetables in.
A good greens powder will make use of different vegetables, grasses, herbs, algae and seaweed to deliver a varied nutritional profile that is rich in enzymes, minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients.
I recommend 2 different green superfood powders:
- Amazing Grass (60 Servings) is affordable and pretty damn good
- Healthforce Vitamineral Green (60 Servings) is pricy and most excellent
If you choose to go another route makes sure your product has 0 grams of sugar and carbohydrate. Also know that a long list of ingredients isn't necessarily a good thing – many producers will inflate this number as a marketing strategy.
Take: 1 serving in the morning with water
I will also double up on servings when my diet is low in plant based nutrition and I always travel with this stuff.
AKA Natures multi-vitamin
One of the most striking examples of how the dietary habits of westerners represent a radical departure from an ancestral diet is in our treatment of meat. In our culture we highlight the muscle meats of the animal, the steak, ribs and burgers while we discard the organ meats, the heart, liver, sweetbreads etc or as it's referred to in the culinary scene 'offal.'
From a nutritional standpoint though we got it all backwards!
Do you remember the scene in the Revenant, where Dicaprio has just emerged from a frozen river, half dead and finds a Native man feasting on a dead buffalo? The man offers him the liver – because he see's that Dicaprio's character is in rough shape and needs it. Well – you're in rough shape and I promise you, you need it too!
I recommend you begin your journey in eating offal with liver (both cow and chicken) as it's the most nutrient dense of the organs.
- Some people enjoy the taste of liver and onions (not me) so if you do, lucky you! Make a 9oz piece of liver and onions and eat 3oz or so 3x week.
- If liver and onion is not your thing, ensure you buy a 100% grass fed beef or pastured chicken liver. Chop it up into small 1 inch chunks and then throw it into an ice cube tray and freeze. Then, anytime you're cooking a dish you can potion out a cube and dice it up really fine. I've had success adding this to a meaty Bolognese sauce, beefs stews and chicken liver in chicken soups and pate.
TAKE: 3-5 servings (1 inch chunks) a week.
This will provide you more than enough Vitamin A, B12 and a ton of needed trace minerals.
If you're keen to explore other organ meats and benefits functional medicine Dr. Josh Axe has a good introduction here.
AKA The Sunshine Vitamin
Much has been written about the need for and benefits of vitamin D and with good reason. It’s absolutely critical for health, and up to 50% of North Americans are deficient.
We can get vitamin D from two sources: food, and sunshine.
Seafood is the only significant source of vitamin D, but you’d still have to eat a lot of it to get enough. 8-9 ounces of herring provides about 2,000 IU of vitamin D, which is a minimum daily requirement for most people to maintain adequate blood levels.
What Your Points Mean
You may be sufficient in vitamin D.
Get your vitamin D tested to verify it is within the normal range.
You are likely deficient in vitamin D.
Do the step above. If your vitamin D level is lower than the targets suggested below, increase your sun exposure and/or take a vitamin D supplement.
You may have a severely low level of vitamin D.
Do the steps above. Consider more frequent sun exposure and/or higher doses of vitamin D.
SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT?
Add up your score for anything which you answer YES.
I spend most of my day indoors. ––––– 3
I get less than 45 mins of total sun (full body) per week. –––– 2
I always wear sunscreen or cover my skin with clothing. ––––– 2
I do not supplement with vitamin D ––––– 2
I have dark skin. ––––– 1
I have celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, or another gastrointestinal disorder. ––––– 1
I am significantly overweight or obese. ––––– 1
I have metabolic syndrome, diabetes, or high blood pressure. –––– 1
I have asthma. ––––– 1
I have an autoimmune disease. ––––– 1
I have depression and/or anxiety. ––––– 1
I have or have had cancer. ––––– 1
I have osteoporosis. ––––– 1
I eat less than 3 servings of cold-water, fatty fish per week. ––––– 1