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Lifestyle Choices for Wellness

Timely discussion on topics of health and wellness to encourage action and improvement in personal wellness.

8/21/2012- 4 Lifesaving Supplements

As a nutrition professional, it has always been a challenge to recommend dietary supplements to patients as the old-fashioned principle of dietetics stems from obtaining all of your nutrients from food. We now know that this is nearly impossible for most people.As I am a huge advocate of this practice, I also have recently become very supportive of supplement use, and here is why:

Our diet, especially a typical Western diet, simply cannot provide us with enough of the essential vitamins and minerals proven to obtain optimal health. In fact, Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating has recently been revised to include a recommendation for vitamin D supplementation. This is a huge step in the right direction for the future of dietetics. The following 4 supplements are clinically proven to improve your health and fight off chronic diseases.

1. Take a multivitamin.

No matter how great you think you eat or how complete your diet is, everyone should be taking a multivitamin. It simply provides nutritional insurance to make sure that you are obtaining your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of certain vitamins and minerals. There is greater benefit to taking a multivitamin than not taking one; however, I do recommend to look for the following when choosing a multivitamin:

a. Make sure it has lower levels of beta-carotene and Vitamin A. If you are a smoker, do not choose a product that has a high level of beta-carotene in it (> 5000 IU), as high levels of beta carotene has been shown to accelerate the development of lung cancer. Vitamin A is one of the rare vitamins that can build up in your liver and cause toxicity, so make sure that your multivitamin does not contain more than 1000 IU of Vitamin A. High doses of Vitamin A has also been linked to hip fractures later on in life.

b. If you have allergies or any dietary restrictions, make sure you choose a multivitamin that lists all of their non-medicinal ingredients. In Canada, it is not mandatory to include such a list on the product packaging. Many companies do not include this list, and often consumers will choose a product thinking that it does not include a particular ingredient. For example, gelatin is not required to be listed on the product; however, in Canada, all multivitamins that contain Vitamin A has gelatin in it, derived from the same raw materials.

2. Take Vitamin D.

200 IU, 400 IU, 1000 IU, 2000 IU, and now 4000 IU? How much is enough? The current recommendations are far too low for the typical Canadian diet. We also live above the 40th latitude of the earth, and therefore, do not get the proper sun exposure needed to produce Vitamin D in our bodies. Along with strengthening our bones, Vitamin D has also been related to almost every immune-related chronic disease, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus. It has also been shown to reduce incidence of certain types of cancers.

Instead of testing for Vitamin D deficiency, many physicians that I work with now simply assume that a patient if deficient in Vitamin D unless they are being supplemented. Because it is relatively inexpensive, (pennies per tablet), Vitamin D should be on everyone's list of must-have supplements. I take 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day.

3. Omega-3

Smooth skin, lubricated joints, lowered cholesterol, are there any more reasons to take these anti-inflammatory supplements? For those of you that have read my previous entries, you know how adamant I am about taking an Omega-3 supplement. Not a complete 3-6-9 supplement, just an Omega 3. You get enough omega-6 and omega-9 through diet, and it is the ideal ratio between 3/6/9 that has the most beneficial effect.

At University of Guelph, I had a professor who dedicated 90% of his lectures to the benefits of omega-3 and the avoidance of trans fats, particularly in frozen breakfast waffles. For those of you who had the same professor, I doubt that you ever ate a frozen breakfast waffle ever again.

4. Calcium

"Osteoporosis is a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences."

Unless you eat plenty of dairy products, the majority of Canadians need a calcium supplement. This mighty mineral is necessary for the prevention of osteoporosis, one of the most debilitating diseases in our lifetime. Having worked at a nursing home during the years of my internship, I have seen the consequences of brittle and frail bones, and if you could do something to prevent it, you would.

Calcium supplements are simply not just for little old women. In fact, at the age of 9 to 18, you need 1300 mg of calcium per day, almost the same as a post-menopausal woman. What we need to do is build our bones to be the strongest possible while we are young, so when bone loss occurs (it's inevitable), it will not reduce our bones to paper-thin densities.

We are continually building our bones up to the age of 30, so anything after that is simply maintenance. And not just women get osteoporosis, 1 in 8 men have osteoporosis too. It's an important mineral for everyone, at every age.

These are my basic magic 4 supplements, what I believe almost everyone should be taking as a baseline for ensuring optimal health.

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