Nutritional supplements are a multi-billion dollar business, and it would be hard to think of another industry that offered the same double-whammy of misinformation and false promises. Seriously. That doesn’t mean that they are all useless. It just means that you have to really educate yourself on what does what, what you can really use, what you can get from your food, and who makes the purest versions of key supps. As the old saying goes, “It’s a jungle out there.”
In Part One, we talked about why certain supplements can be beneficial. In this post, we’ll break down the five primary categories of supplements and talk briefly about the what and the why of each one. I like to refer to these categories as P.E.A.C.E., so from here on out, you can be at “peace” in the knowledge that you’re getting everything you need!
This acronym represents the five different nutritional components – above and beyond the basic rations of vitamins and minerals that you’ll get from your Rock-Solid food choices – that require your daily attention if you want to enjoy optimal health. And while we all won’t share the exact regimen (because everyone has different needs, at different times in their life), these five areas should cover the bases pretty well for you:
P is for Prebiotics/Probiotics
E is for Enzymes
A is for Antioxidants
C is for Chlorophyll (or super greens)
E is for Extras,
which represent a few isolated nutrients that may require supplementation, depending on exactly what you’ve eaten on a given day.
Let’s take a closer look at the particulars of these five valuable categories:
P = Prebiotics/Probiotics
Healthy bacteria. Is there really such a thing? You bet there is. Lactobacillus bacteria (most notably acidophilus and bifidus) live in your intestines as a critical ally to your overall internal health. This bacteria helps to break down your food for optimal digestion and assimilation, detoxify your digestive tract, lower the risk of funky pathogenic infection and even aids in the production of B vitamins. This healthy bacteria, or flora, also plays a role in the maintenance and strengthening of your immune system. In this way, it’s kind of like your “in-house” antibiotics, as it fights against the intruding bad forms of bacteria, like citrobacter or E. coli.
Unfortunately, many things from our external environment, including chlorine (in tap water), fluoride, alcohol, and yes, prescribed antibiotics, all conspire against it. And since there truly is strength in numbers in the case of your flora, the fewer of these little guys there are (and they do number in the billions, by the way), the less effective they can be in doing their job. Which brings us to the subtle distinction between Probiotics and Prebiotics:
Probiotics are supplements (or foods) that contain the actual healthy bacteria. By taking a probiotic like acidophilus, it’s like bringing in more troops for your flora army.
Prebiotics are supplements that are designed to nourish and strengthen the existing troops. By taking a Prebiotic like FOS (Fructooligosaccharides), you are ensuring that your flora army continues to thrive in your internal environment.
The best way to replenish your flora population is through a brief two-week program of taking a probiotic everyday on an empty stomach. This step is generally optional in many cases since most folks probably have enough healthy bacteria present for a prebiotic to work with. But since it’s hard to determine the exact status of your flora, it makes sense to play it safe and “send in more troops.”
On the other hand, if you’ve had to take an antibiotic, you might want to extend your flora rejuvenation program with a good probiotic for three to four weeks. Antibiotics tend to take the sledgehammer approach to cleaning house and wipe out all forms of bacteria, both good and bad. The same recommendation applies to other extreme forms of medical treatment, exposure to toxins, or drug abuse, where your flora has taken a hit.
For a prebiotic, you will want something with FOS that you can take first thing in the morning and/or before you go to bed, every day or two. You can’t really o.d. on this stuff and it can only aid your flora in doing its job. And remember; a healthy flora is an effective flora!
E = Enzymes
As protein-based substances found in the cells of all living things, enzymes are critical for virtually every function in our body. Most enzymes are considered catabolic, because they break larger substances down into simpler substances. And this is exactly the function of digestive enzymes, which is something that our bodies do manufacture for us… to a point. But in these modern times, two serious problems have emerged with regard to digestive enzymes:
1) Live, unprocessed foods (like raw fruits and veggies) come with their own live enzymes, so when we eat these foods, our bodies are required to produce fewer digestive enzymes. However, if the majority of the food we eat is some combination of processed, cooked, baked, irradiated or otherwise several steps removed from its original state, this requires the involvement of more of our own digestive enzymes.
2) As we age, there simply becomes less of these crucial digestive enzymes available. This leads to the toxicity of poorly digested food and the variety of problems associated with that.
That’s why, as we eat all of these delicious and healthy Rock-Solid foods, we want to make sure that we reap all of their healthful benefits and extract all of the potent nutrients. This is where digestive enzymes can be invaluable. Whether we’re talking raw, high-fiber snacks that can be difficult for some folks to optimally digest, or larger, cooked meals that are devoid of live enzymes, we can assist our body in the digestion/assimilation process by popping a few digestive enzymes with any meal that could pose a challenge.
Look for a supplement that contains several different types of digestive enzymes, like amylase (for starch), lipase (for fat), protease (for protein), cellulase (for veggies), etc.
A = Antioxidants
In these modern times, our bodies are subjected to abnormally high degrees of stress in a number of different ways. There’s physical stress when we push the body hard through cardio or weight training, extensive travel, or hectic scheduling where we’re not getting proper rest. There’s emotional stress that comes about through excessive worry, anger, depression or other forms of emotion that activate the release of harmful chemicals into our bloodstream. And there’s environmental stress where we are exposed to a myriad of toxins in everything from air pollution, water, food, household products, etc.
When the body is under attack from any form of stress, it produces “pirate” cells called free radicals, which can contribute to all kinds of problems like disease, various illnesses and even premature aging. Antioxidants are your strongest allies in fighting these free radicals and keeping you healthy. And while antioxidants are plentiful in fruits and vegetables as well as certain legumes and nuts, it’s sometimes difficult and impractical to put away the sheer volume of these foods each day to meet the optimal quota. This is where the addition of an excellent antioxidant supplement can assist.
Some of the most potent individual antioxidant supplements include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A (beta-carotene), selenium, zinc, Co-Enzyme Q10 and alpha lipoic acid, as well as extracts of garlic, grape seed, ginkgo biloba, green tea and milk thistle. By now, each of these antioxidants has a small library of research behind them to substantiate their effectiveness.
Additionally, you can even find supplements for many of the lesser known, but amply potent, phyto-nutrients contained in many fruits and veggies, and that also have antioxidant properties. Citrus bioflavonoids, for example, contain a bunch of technical sounding things like hesperidin, diosmin, neohesperidin, rutin and naringin, which combine together to produce both preventative and healing effects in the body. And while you wouldn’t want to take these kind of supplements in place of actually eating a variety of citrus fruits, it doesn’t hurt to include citrus bioflavonoids in your supplement regimen.
At the same time, don’t think you have to run off to the health food market and load up your basket with one bottle of each of the above. The hot ticket to antioxidant supplementation is in multi-antioxidant blends, particularly those products where some thought has gone into the synergistic aspect of antioxidant combining. Many of these nutrients complement each other and promote better overall absorption. For example, bioperine, which is derived from black pepper, significantly increases the bioavailability of many other antioxidants, making it a valuable addition to most any combination. So always look at the big picture with your antioxidant blends.
C = Chlorophyll
Superior health begins with healthy blood, and there is no more potent nutrient for our blood than chlorophyll. Known as the “blood” of green plants, chlorophyll shares an almost identical molecular structure to our own, making it among the most potent single nutrients we can consume. Regular infusions of chlorophyll via a number of rich, green foods and supplements seems to increase our red blood cell count, which brings new levels of oxygenation and circulation to the bloodstream. And as an overall blood purifier, there’s none better than chlorophyll.
In addition to all of the other varied and potent nutrients that are so easily assimilated in our high-chlorophyll greens, they are also the most alkalizing substances for our blood that we can ingest. This helps to combat the high-acid internal environment that so many people have, which creates and/or sustains most every ailment and poor health symptom imaginable. And yet… it can be challenging to take in optimal amounts of the stuff to keep your blood on the alkaline side.
This is where an excellent high-chlorophyll capsule, tablet or powdered drink supplement can come in handy. Anytime you have a meal or even a snack that is light on green power, simply pop a few tabs. You can also enjoy a chlorophyll-rich drink at any time, as well (“enjoy” being a relative term here!), although I find the tablets to be infinitely easier to use. This will ensure that you’re getting your steady rations of super greens throughout the day as it helps to keep your alkalinity high and your blood sugar levels even.
E = Extras
While all essential nutrients are plentiful in the plant kingdom, there are several that deserve special attention, based on the foundation of your eating regimen and what kind of Superfoods smoothie you’re having each day. If you are extremely diligent about enjoying a wide-ranging, multicolored, nutrient dense eating regimen everyday, you will generally not have to go out of your way for too many other nutrients, including any kind of generic multivitamin. (I’ve always relied on two scoops of The Ultimate Meal smoothie mix to serve as my foundation, for example. More on this in Part III of this series.) Still, depending on a number of other factors, your “Extras” category is designed to fill in the blanks of your regimen.
After years of research and observation, here are what I believe to be the 10 main nutrients that could potentially be of concern in this Extras category. They are:
EFAs (mainly omega 3s)
However, if you are following an excellent regimen, only three of these should require steady monitoring.
The Main Three “E’s”
The three most elusive nutrients in the plant-based diet are B-12, Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids. (And once again, their elusiveness is a reflection of modern eating practices, lifestyle choices and farming methodologies, as opposed to any inherent shortcoming in the plant-based diet.) And these generally do not require daily supplementing by any means; they are just a few key nutrients to be aware of.
Note: I know this might seem like a lot to keep track of, but don’t trip out on me! It’s easier than you think to manage this “P.E.A.C.E.” supp regimen.
In our final entry of the series, I will reveal exactly what my supplementation regimen looks like, including brands, amounts, etc.