Supplementing A Plant-Based Diet
This post comes from Guest Blogger Sue Taggart. Ms. Taggart is a natural marketing expert and the founder of ADinfinitum, a leading communications group in NYC for the natural, healthy lifestyle and wellness industry.
The first thing to remember when taking a dietary supplement of any kind is just that they are supplements to your diet, not substitutes for healthy eating. Anyone embarking on a plant-based diet has already made the decision to eat in a healthful way. But, the very nature of our modern food chain is that we cannot get all the nutrients necessary from food. Modern farming methods and hybridized crops mean that much of the food we grow has a fraction of the nutritional value it did, even in our grandparents’ days.
Eating organic foods will certainly help, as well as understanding what nutrients you may need to add through supplementation. Potential deficiencies can include amino-acids (the building blocks of protein), iron, zinc, calcium and B-12. B-12 is primarily found in animal foods. Other B-vitamins and many trace minerals are usually plentiful in a vegetarian diet.
Amino acids are used to make important substances like enzymes that support biological reactions, hormones that influence metabolism, hemoglobin that carries oxygen through the body, and antibodies that help your immune system fight infections. Your nervous system depends on amino acids to operate. The fascinating and therapeutic effects of amino acids are too lengthy to cover in this introductory article, but they are essential in your daily diet.
A good food-based multi vitamin with essential minerals would be the first step in building a supplement program. Companies like Rainbow Light, MegaFoods, The Synergy Company and New Chapter, all have good vegan formulas—if you are going to take a capsule make sure you look for one made from a vegetarian-base. This will be clearly marked on the label. Traditional capsules are from gelatin, which is from an animal origin.
Getting EFA’s into your daily diet is essential. EFA’s are Essential Fatty Acids that cannot be made by the body, they have to be supplemented. Many people take an Omega 3 fish oil supplement, there are plant based options available including a Nature’s Way EFA formula. Another way to get EFA’s is from flax seed—either as a supplement or as part of your diet on cereal, in soups and salads or evening primrose oil is another popular source. If you have a lack of EFA’s in your diet, your skin and hair will become dry and dull. Your brain and nervous system also need EFA’s to function properly. A shortage may make you anxious or even depressed.
Also a good probiotic supplement will help keep your digestive system in balance as well as help your immune system. Often, plant-based diets result in gas and bloating and these “friendly bacteria” will help overcome this, as well as help your body in many other ways. They reduce or prevent the over-growth of problematic organisms and help break down the foods you eat. They also manufacture some B-vitamins and other nutrients and are another essential supplement, especially with today’s contaminated food sources. An effective probiotic can help the body fight off the effects of ingesting bad bacteria.
The important thing when looking for good dietary supplements is to do a little homework. There are hundreds of brands and choosing the right product can be very confusing. Learn to read labels (more about this in another post), check out company websites—most of the leading brands will have a blog, an expert column or a Facebook page where you can ask questions. Find out what other people like about a particular company, ask their opinion—other consumers can often be more helpful than medical websites. And whatever you do, do not buy on price alone. With supplements you really do get what you pay for. Good, effective formulas need good, effective ingredients and these do not come cheap. Often, people buy an inexpensive formula and when it “doesn’t work” stop taking supplements altogether.
Finally, one common misconception is that supplements are not regulated. They are not drugs and so do not fall under the same FDA regulations as drugs, but they do have to conform to DSHEA, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. Reputable companies abide by DSHEA guidelines for all label claims. As a consumer, if you employ the same kind of informed knowledge for choosing dietary supplements that you do for your food purchases, you won’t go far wrong.