Supplements: what you need to know

If you’re living in downtown Toronto like me, you’ve probably noticed the presence of more and more health food stores popping up everywhere. Supplements, organic food, clean cosmetics, essential oils…all the goodies that make me squeal and run around like a kid in a (naturally sweetened) candy store.

When I used to work at a health food store, I loved it when people would wander in full of curiosity and ask me questions about things they had heard about certain products e.g. probiotics, fish oil, protein powder. On the other hand, it saddened me when some people would walk in and think they needed to buy everything in the store to be healthy.

So here’s pretty much what I would say to both groups of people, a primer if you will before buying supplements:

1. A supplement is just that — a supplement to a healthy lifestyle and diet.

If you don’t exercise and eat lots of junk food and takeout, a supplement isn’t going to do you much good, and you’re just wasting your money. Focus first on improving your health through lifestyle and diet, and only then if you want a nutritional boost or have symptoms that still need to be addressed, look towards supplementation. Note: you can do both supplementation & lifestyle change at the same time, just not supplementation before addressing diet & exercise.

2. Your supplementation needs differ from everyone else.

On one end of the spectrum, someone could lead an extremely healthy lifestyle and just want to take supplements as a preventative measure. To that customer I would recommend foundational supplements like a probiotic, multivitamin, greens powder, fish oil, or immune support. Keep in mind that no matter how healthy our lifestyle is, we’re all exposed to pollution, chemicals, pesticides, physical/mental/environmental stressors, which take a toll on our body. So while a little added supplementation may not be crucial, it definitely makes us stronger and brings us closer to optimal health. On the other end of the spectrum, there could be someone suffering from a chronic condition like Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS etc. These individuals definitely need more help than the average Joe, and supplementation is most often crucial. While food & exercise will still need to be the foundation, food alone isn’t enough to reverse or manage certain symptoms which require nutrients at a much higher, therapeutic dose. Such high doses can only be found in supplements.

3. Don’t cheap out.

The brands you get from Shopper’s Drug Mart or other drugstores are NOT the same quality as what you get at a health food store, through your nutritionist or naturopath. Two reasons: 1) the drugstore brands tend to use the cheapest forms of each vitamin, which means they are the least absorbable and essentially get peed out; 2) drugstore brands are often full of artificial colours, fillers and binders. Basically, less of the active ingredient and more “filler” to save on costs.

I hope this helps as very basic introduction to supplementation. If you have more questions, please feel free to leave a comment below!

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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