The world of supplements can be an extremely confusing one. How are you supposed to know the difference between marketing hype and truth? Throw in “muscle building”, “weight loss” and all the other supplements besides general health and most people give up choosing to do nothing than get something they don’t understand.
In the Realm of General Health
First, understand I am not a nutritionist nor am I a registered dietician, so your specific health concerns might demand a different protocol, so please check with your physician first, especially before embarking on any kind of supplement regimen.
In the realm of general health, there are really only 4 supplements with which you need to concern yourself. With many of these, I will be citing a medical doctor, Dr. Asa Andrew and his book “Empower Your Health”.
Understand that I make no money endorsing his product or any of the products below, these are his thoughts, my opinions and the products below are ones I regularly use.
According to Dr. Asa these 4 supplements are what he calls “The Foundational Four”. I agree with him and from a training point of view, really, there are not a lot of extra supplements you actually “need”.
Whole Food Multivitamin
This is the first and if you get nothing else, please start with this. The words “whole food” are incredibly important here. Brands like “Centrum” and “One-A-Day” are what are called “synthetic” brands; made in a lab, not derived from food. Whole food multivitamins are exactly what they sound like: vitamins made from or derived from food. Your body understands what to do with food (break it down, digest and absorb it), this may not always be true with synthetic, as is evidenced by the large number of “one-a-day’s” found in the bottom of port-o-potties. (Sorry I had to go there!)
Quote from “Empower Your Health”
In essence, if you are taking a synthetic multivitamin, your body can use virtually none of it. But they don’t just pass through the body. Your body has to process anything you consume, so it must process these synthetic supplements, which are man-made and often toxic. In short, synthetic supplements can actually do more harm than good and may even have adverse side effects, some as severe as sterility. On the other hand, whole food multis are whole foods with only the water and fiber removed. They are, in essence, compressed, dried food.
So, what to look for?
- says “Whole Food” on the label
- limited shelf life
- have to take more than one (food can only be condensed so small)
What brand do I use and like?
Nature's Plus SOURCE OF LIFE MULTI-VITAMIN W/ WHOLE FOOD
Whole food vitamins come in different varieties, but I really do like how I feel with this. One of the best parts? They include a sample packet when you open it, so if you DON’T like it, you can still return the product “unopened” (This is the boxed version). They also include a tested ingredient list with actual amounts on the inside, to let you know they tested each batch for accuracy, and you’ll see, what’s listed on the label is the minimum, usually there’s a little extra in each.
Nature's Plus ULTRA-ZYME
This is my go-to favorite. The pills are small, oblong, and smooth and therefore very easy to swallow. They do not have a potent smell. I’m starting to notice a brand pattern. 🙂
Update: a few years ago I started having gallbladder problems, and no amount of dietary change would help it, so I had it out. In that case, Ox Bile is even MORE important.
Enzymes help break down the food that we eat. They help you assimilate all your nutrients…The enzymes you take with food will help break down protein, fat, sugar, starch and carbohydrates. The body contains (or is supposed to contain) most of the enzymes it needs, but with the lifestyle choices of our fast-paced society and the depleted state of our soil, we have lost a lot of our enzymes’ beneficial processes.
The lack of proper enzymes in the body creates a two-fold problem: It impairs the functioning of the immune system, and it results in illness and disease. Take them with every meal…they will also transform nutrients to become the new healthy cells that your body desperately needs to be well….Look for brands that contain chlorella, chlorophyllase and pepsin, as these are excellent enzymes; and avoid brands that say they have been freeze-dried or frozen, as this process takes away much of the enzymes’ potency.
I can vouch for this as when I do not take my enzymes I, um, don’t digest things well. When I don’t take them on a regular basis for an amount of time, I REALLY don’t digest things well. Even with a good diet rich in fiber, whole foods and plenty of water, I can still use these enzymes. Some people naturally have less HCL in their stomachs, some have too much and if you are missing a gall bladder, you DEFINITELY need to get a brand with a high amount of lipase, the enzyme that breaks down fat.
Omega-3 Fish Oil (Cod Liver Oil)
This is the one that can really get people. When I mention taking cod liver oil, most people immediately gross out. First off, don’t confuse it with castor oil, the nasty stuff your grandmother gave you as a kid. Cod Liver Oil is the oil that comes from the liver of the cod fish. That’s it. Well, except that it has the highest concentration of Omega-3’s on the planet. Yes, more than Salmon oil, anchovy, KRILL, flaxseed or anything else.
And let’s talk about flaxseed. Yes, it’s an omega 3, however, 1) it has to be ground up before you eat it in order for you to absorb it 2) it must be CONVERTED to Omega 3 3) it has a poor absorption rate (only 15-20%), so why bother?
Why does Dr. Asa (and myself) recommend cod liver oil in liquid form? (Stay with me….) Lots of reasons
- There is less chance that the fish oil is rancid
- You get more for your money (do you know how many capsules per day you have to take to equal one Tablespoon of oil? A LOT…do the math yourself)
- It’s much easier to digest and absorb (nothing to break down, no capsule, etc)
- Much less chance of contamination or mixtures of anything
In any case, if you were looking for a magic supplement, Omega 3’s are just about as close as we can get. Google it, and the benefits will take up a whole page. Back to the pill form, here’s Dr. Asa:
Here is a word of caution about taking oil capsules. Would you eat fish if it were rancid? Of course not. Unfortunately, if you take oil capsules such as cod liver oil or fish oil, you have no way of knowing whether or not the oil inside those capsules is rancid. Fish oil is unstable and it starts to oxidize as soon as it is extracted from the fish and exposed to oxygen, metals, light and heat. Fish oil can go rancid within days, although labels often say it’s safe to use it for 3 or 4 years. Here is how you can protect yourself against this:
- Test fish oil capsules by biting into one. It should taste fresh and mildly fishy. If it tastes bad or excessively strong, throw them away and avoid that brand.
- Choose brands that include d-gamma and d-delta forms of tocopherols (vitamin E) to prevent harmful oxidation and rancidity
I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you. Just Google it! Here are my recommendations on the best brands and best TASTING brands:
Nordic Naturals ARCTIC COD LIVER OIL
This is my favorite. The brand has one of the highest concentrations of EPA and DHA and the strawberry flavor really cancels out a lot of the fishy taste. Speaking of DHA and EPA, if you really want to go capsules, forget what it says about “1 gram of fish oil” and look at the label. The Omega 3’s are the EPA and DHA and if they don’t add up to 1000 you aren’t getting 1 gram of omega 3’s. 1 gram of fish oil, sure, but who cares? What you are after is Omega 3. This brand totals up to 1.2 grams of OMEGA 3’s PER TEASPOON. I take a tablespoon a day. How many pills do you have to swallow to equal that? Well, if two pills give you somewhere around 200-300 miligrams….you’d have to take 12 pills to equal one teaspoon. Why bother?!??! Just get the freakin oil, suck it up and quit whining. Your joints, metabolism, hair skin, nails, brain and immune system will thank you.
Need one more testimony? True story, if I stop taking this for a couple days in a row, my allergies come back with ROARING ferocity. Think this has anything to do with the fact that cod liver oil is a potent anti-inflammtory? I think so.
Second Brand I like:
The Vitamin Shoppe ULTIMATE 10 PROBIOTIC
This is the brand that I use. There are 10 different strains of bacterial with 13 BILLION in each capsule. When looking for probiotics, look for billions, you are wasting your time with millions. Also, these are enteric coated, meaning, they are coated so that they will pass through the stomach undigested where they will be broken down in your intestines, where they are absorbed. That’s what happens in your intestines, it’s where you absorb things. Your stomach has the job of the breakdown, absorption happens in intestines. When you get “burp free” fish oil capsules that are enteric coated, this is why; they are broken down in the intestines, and once they’ve passed to there, you can’t burp up stuff. You have a sphincter muscle called the “duodenum” I believe, that connects the stomach and intestine. Once things pass through there, it closes up, nothing comes back up. If you burp up your “enteric coated, burp-free” fish oil…you know the brand is lying to you, or they are old.
So how much?
Only a doctor can tell you for sure, with your specific needs, but this is what I take and what is recommended:
- One serving of multivitamins a day (usually 3)
- 1 Tablespoon of cod liver oil per day (with food)
- digestive enzymes with every meal
- probiotics 1-2 times per day, morning on empty stomach or before bed
Nature's Plus ULTRA-ZYME
I personally recommend supplementing with some Vitamin C in your diet, especially if you do not eat or like large amounts of citrus, other fruits or green leafy vegetables. It’s an antioxidant that protects your cells against free radical damage and can also protect your fish oil against oxidation.
By the way, Vitamin Shoppe happens to run a Buy 1 Get 1 50% off special every April and either September or October on their brands. You can mix and match, so if you got the Vitamin C above, you could get the probiotics half off, or vice versa. Or you could do what I do and get two of each and stock up, that way you have to buy them less often.
If you would like to purchase any of the above items, you can do so easily here through my Amazon store. (If the music side of the Amazon store is showing up below, look for the “fitness products” links to the right to change the store). This makes it very easy to see which health and fitness products I personally recommend. Hope you found this helpful, let me hear your thoughts!