Isn’t good food good enough?

Spring Cleaning Your Natural Medicine Cabinet: Guidelines on What to Keep and What to Pitch 3

I’ve seen so many diets like this one that severely restrict certain types of foods, and one hallmark I’ve noticed is that they require a person to take dietary supplements.Without meaning to sound nit-picky, and surely not to bash you or anyone who follows such a diet, I’m wondering why the supplements, if this is God’s original intention for our diets? My reasoning is along the lines of thinking He would supply every nutrient we needed through our food, if this were the only way we should eat. Having said that, I probably should be taking supplements, because I don’t eat even close to this healthily! I’ve enjoyed reading about your diet, and have considered making a few changes to ours. Thanks!

I was actually thrilled to see this question asked in response to my post on the Maker’s Diet, because it’s just the type of thing that I have asked many times.

There’s something you should know about me. I am pragmatic to the core. Especially when it comes to new-fangled health ideas and things that will cost more money (always with the lofty promise of incredible health, vitality and healing for whatever ails me). I am a true skeptic.

It takes me a long time to accept strange new ideas.In fact, when I first read Maker’s Diet, and then Nourishing Traditions a couple years ago, I thought that this whole soaking your grains thing was ridiculous and way over the top, and it actually took me quite a while of learning and reading more and just sitting on the idea for awhile before I recognized both the sense and the scientific reasoning behind it.

My feelings on the use of supplements have taken a bit of a similar journey. Initially, I felt that they were a rip-off, just another way for health food stores or Naturopaths to make money off of those of us who wanted to regain our health. As I began to study nutrition increasingly, my desire to pursue health purely through wholesome foods and proper preparation techniques increased, and my pragmatic little brain thought this exact same question– “If God created our bodies and created these healthful foods to nourish our bodies, then why do we need to add anything else to the picture? Shouldn’t it be sufficient to eat according to His original intentions and let that be enough?”

In the words of Hippocrates, “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food “, right?

Truth be told, I still keep supplements to a minimum around our house, but that it more because of their often extravagant cost and not because I don’t think that they have value. However, my views have changed as I have continued to study and learn (which makes me wonder, if my views have shifted and been challenged and refined this many times in 5 years, how much more do I have to learn throughout the rest of my lifetime?).

I now hold to the view that although supplements should not be relied upon and do not (and cannot!) replace the absolute necessity of a healthy, wholesome and varied diet, when used correctly they can be a valuable tool for encouraging healing of disease and sickness, and improving and maintaining a greater overall level of health.

The primary reason that I began to change my mind was that I realized that although God’s original plan for our bodies and our food was perfect, we no longer live in a perfect world. Death (and with it illness) has entered the picture because of sin, and along with that, man must toil to produce food in a world that, unlike the Garden of Eden, is not always perfectly hospitable to us, nor predictably abundant or fruitful.

For one thing, soil today is not half of what it was enough 100 years ago. This is due primarily to the abuse that it has received at the hands of conventional farming techniques, including sprays, synthetic fertilizers, mono-crops, etc. Our soil is being depleted year after year, much faster than we can imagine. Intensive farming methods are stripping soil of it’s mineral content, and those minerals are not being replaced by the inorganic fertilizers that are being used.

Here is a chart summarizing the changes in the mineral content of different types of vegetables, fruit and meats between 1940 and 1991.

Another site reported that according to the 1992 Earth Summit Statistics, in a 100 year period the soil in North America has experienced a 85% loss of minerals through depletion. Although it is likely that organically produced foods have a higher nutrient content due to the improved soils in which they are grown (though this is still a debated fact, I can hardly imagine how it could be otherwise), unless you are eating 100% organic your foods are likely deficient in many of the nutrients that your body needs (and in fact, even if you do eat all organic, there may still be some soil depletion and lack of nutrients, due to other environmental factors).

When you consider these things in conjunction with the fact that we live in an increasingly toxic world and that our bodies are daily dealing with a very heavy toxic burden, I think it is safe to say that it is reasonable to use supplements to add to what we are already doing through sound nutrition, natural living, etc.

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I think that the name “supplements” actually says it all when it comes to their actual usefulness. They are exactly what they say that they are– a great way to supplement our diet. Not to make up for a bad diet, or for the fact that we don’t feel like eating green veggies or consuming good sources of calcium! But instead, a way to help us out when we are struggling to get sufficient amounts of a particular nutrient, or dealing with a challenging illness, or simply wanting to support our bodies in a greater way.

One issue that came up in the comments that I want to address is that of supplements not being absorbed and used by our body, but basically just running through us and coming out in our waste. The fact is, that is often true. There are many cheap supplements out there that are simply not well digested and absorbed (for example, most of the ones sold in regular grocery stores and pharmacies, and especially most multi-vitamins).

The most important factor (in my opinion) in a supplement is whether it is a high quality supplement, preferable coming from a whole food source, as opposed to synthetically created or separated vitamins and minerals. Most nutrients work in our bodies synergistically with the other foods that God wisely combined them with in their natural forms. Basically, this means that Vitamin C or calcium or whatever it is that you’re taking will work better when it comes as a whole package, rather than a singled out nutrient.

As well, the particular form of a nutrient matters, too. Vitamin D3 is a more usable form than D2, but most cheaper supplements contain D2. Iron can come from many different sources (eg. ferrous fumarate, ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, etc.), with varying levels of absorbability and usefulness for our bodies, and there are many other nutrients that are similar.

This is why my first preference is to get my nutrients from whole foods, rather than relying on a supplement. Nutrients are generally most absorbable in their naturally occurring state. However, as I’ve stated, there are reasons why I feel supplements are useful tools (lack of nutrients in today’s soil and food, particular seasons when we are needing more of something particular, etc.), and therefore it is worth knowing how to find high quality ones.

Another aspect that will affect how well a supplement works is whether your body can digest it or not. For many, pills are difficult to digest (and often, difficult to swallow- personally, I get nauseas from pills and really struggle with horse pills), and liquids can be an easier form of getting it down and making sure that more of it actually gets in you.

There is debate between liquid and pill form supplements, with the claim that liquid supplements are almost entirely absorbed, whereas pills are barely absorbed at all. The info out there is a bit difficult to decipher, and there are a lot of exaggerations being made, in my opinion. But personally, I do prefer liquids and find them especially effective, however, there are also some good supplements out there in pill form, though they are generally not the cheapo ones you find on the drugstore shelves.

When I am choosing a supplement, I usually select only liquid, high-quality ones that may cost more, but are more valuable than buying a larger amount of cheaper ones. For instance, when I need iron, I suppose I could buy several bottles of the pills for the cost of one bottle of the liquid I prefer, but the fact is that my body just doesn’t do well with the pills– I feel sick to my stomach, I get constipated (I know, too much information, but it’s true), and I just don’t absorb it or feel much of a difference. On the other hand, one small bottle of Floradix Liquid Iron (my personal favorite) and my body handles it well, none of the ill side effects, and I start to feel it’s positive effects within mere days.

I’ll continue on with this topic in a day or two, as there’s just too much to say for one post! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it so far! Do you think supplements are necessary? Do you take them? Why or why not?

In my next (and final) post on this subject, I will discuss some of the supplements that our family uses, some tips for finding good supplements and let you know some of the particular brands that I like as well!

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  1. Yes, this is a tricky subject.
    Once you decide to take supplements (and spend the money), you have to wonder how much your body will absorb from those.
    Just from the little knowledge I have, I lean toward using whole herbs in tea or tinctures.
    If I can grow them myself, even better.
    Great topic.

  2. Yes, this post is so true. We do need supplements do to the carelessness of how the spoil is treated and over used. Though vitamins and supplements are so expensive. I tend to buy once a month when Nutter’s has their 20% off. My kids get most of the vits and my husband and me do the best we can through food and a few odds and ends. To do this properly would be 100$ a month. We can only do the best with what we have. We are ahead of the game in alot of respects as we eat mostly clean and healthy foods.

  3. Okay, this is pretty yucky – but I once heard it reported that there are a high number of supplement pills that are found in sewage treatment plants. People pay good money for supplements and remember to take them – but the pills are not being digested and absorbed.

    With food and gas prices rising, our family can’t afford to be flushing our hard-earned money down the drain. I’m all about good nutrition – but I’m very skeptical of supplements in pill-form.

    Thanks for this post – I really enjoy your site and continue to learn new things each day!

  4. Thank you for this. We don’t do supplements much at all because they are SO expensive, but I’ve often wondered if I should at least have Dacey on some vitamin supplements due to her picky eating. This is great information and I look forward to hearing more of what you have to share.

  5. I have once again recently (within the last month) asked myself that same question a couple of times. I was looking into going to a local naturopath for a general helath analysis. As I researched this particular one online, I saw that the second step after the initial evaluationwas being set-up with various supplements to greatly increase your health. I immediately thought, I’m not going to her if she gives me supplements as the first step toward a helathier life. Didn’t God give us food as our source of nutrition? Shouldn’t eating right/healthier be enough? So, this once again challenges my thought process. I have also heard someone else talk about the depletion in our soils = depletion of nutrients in our food and have wondered if that was true, so I was glad you put a website link to look at.

    Thanks Stephanie for all you do! I am going to pour over your site for the next month and learn all I can/ think about a lifestyle change because after we move, I won’t have access to the internet for an indefinite period. Also, I am starting the “no poo” thing tomorrow. I hope it works b/c my body for the last year has been reacting strangely (almost like a slight allergic reaction) to shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, etc, so I love hearing natural alternatives.

  6. I do take some supplements. I used to take more of them…I continue to take the ones that I notice a difference with. So that is why I take them….because I notice they help. Not all have helped. If I had more money, I might take some more, but they are very pricey and hard to find quality. It is often hard enough to buy whole, natural/organic foods let alone also supplements.

    I believe that there is a place for them, because, as you said, our world is not the place that God made when he created it. Sin has destroyed a lot of things. However, trying to do the best we can with our money to improve our food should be priority first. The rest I trust God with (as I know you do too!)

  7. Just popped over through the BlogHerAds.

    I don’t take supplements and the reason is that our bodies do not absorb enough of the non-food value from them to make it worth it. Taking extra of something doesn’t mean my body will absorb it. Taking something because I’m not eating it/getting it in my diet still does not mean my body will absorb it. Eating right (not less, not more, not restrictively pure of carbs or whatnot) is not the way to eat. We need a bit of it all, some more than others.

    Granted, we are different; there are allergies (nuts for one) and sensitivities (dairy for one) and disease (diabetes and celiac for example) that often require restraint from some foods. That’s just another aspect of the Fall. When our body can not absorb all those extra supplements we put in our selves then it just leaves via the urine.

    But I for one intend to keep my money from the supplements for shoes and clothes for my family and a roof over our heads instead of just making very expensive pee. So, all that said to say, I believe when possible that all nutrients should come from edibles first and foremost.

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