Does COVID-19 have you wondering if you should add some vitamins to your day, but you don’t want to break the bank on something you aren't convinced you need? Let’s clear this up.
When I first got into the nutrition game, I was determined to get all of my essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients through my diet alone. I was not interested in choking back a handful of supplements 3x/day. But let me tell you, even with a heavily plant-based, organic and conscious diet, I still come up short and now have a supplement cupboard to be revered (or made fun of).
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT VITAMINS & MINERALS?
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body cannot make on its own, and therefore we must get through our diet. They are not fuel - like carbohydrates, fat and protein - but act as required components in the thousands of metabolic reactions that take place in our bodies. For example, vitamin C is a cofactor involved in producing collagen[i]. Without sufficient vitamin C, the reaction will not continue to move forward.
WHY CAN’T I JUST EAT MY VITAMINS & MINERALS?
First of all, whether it be due to depleted soil, pesticide use or genetically modified crops, industrial farming practices have led to a decline in the nutrients in our plants and animals. A study comparing 43 plant foods from 1950 to 1999 found that there was a decrease in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C[ii]. Using this information, an adult would have needed only 8.3 cups of broccoli to make their calcium requirement in 1950, versus 22.4 cups of broccoli in 1999!
Secondly, unless you are buying from a local farm, your food has been transported across great distances. This means that in order for the food not to spoil, it had to be harvested unripe. Without ripening at the source, the plant was not able to absorb its maximum nutrients from the soil.
Finally, your diet and lifestyle come into play big-time. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that a diet high in processed food and refined sugar is going to be low in essential nutrients. There are also lifestyle factors that can exhaust your micronutrients – like environmental toxins, pesticides, smoking, alcohol and stress – resulting in higher demands for certain vitamins and minerals. Stress, for instance, increases both your vitamin C and magnesium requirements[iii],[iv].
HOW MUCH OF EACH VITAMIN & MINERAL DO I NEED?
Enter-in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). These are your minimum required values of essential nutrients developed by the Food and Nutrition Board in collaboration with Health Canada. You can find the tables here. For example, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A for a woman age 14+ is 700mcg/day. Compare this to what you eat in a day and you can determine whether or not you are meeting your vitamin A requirement.
While DRIs are great to have as a baseline, keep in mind they are generally values to prevent deficiency disease, not necessarily to set you up for optimal, thriving health. Regardless, if you are not at least meeting these minimums, it is a pretty good indication that you need to make changes in your diet and/or supplement.
THIS SOUNDS HARD, IS THERE NO OTHER WAY?
I recognize that analyzing your diet and nutrients in this way can be very overwhelming but, don’t despair – I’ve created a solution! Sign-up for my Nutrient Assessment service and I will audit your diet and tell you where you are coming up short with respect to certain key nutrients. Upon reviewing your results, I will suggest foods to add-in in an attempt to meet your DRIs and if the gap is too large, you may choose to hit that vitamin aisle after all.