Health supplements have undoubtedly become a booming industry within themselves. The most recent Australian Health Survey (2011-12 ABS) reported 29% of Australians take at least one dietary supplement daily with females being the highest consumers. With these figures in mind, we must remember supplements should not replace a healthy balanced diet. Nor should they make up for a purposely less than ideal diet. In fact, as the name implies, supplements should supplement a healthy diet when needs outweigh what can be taken in via diet.
Certain states of health and/or lifestyle choices can rob us of nutrients and place strain on our nutrient pool. In these states we may be at risk of deficiency and therefore need to amp up our supply, supply must meet demand. During such times, supplements are a great resource to have on hand to keep our good health humming along. Remember, quality is important, buying from reputable brands devoid of nasty fillers is just as important as supplementing, full stop. Here are some key examples when supplements may come in handy.
During Times of Stress
When we are under stress our body churns through certain nutrients at a great rate.
To help our body and mind become more resilient to stress, reach for magnesium and B-vitamins to nourish the nervous system. Magnesium can also help with sleep and we all know good sleep is critical for warding off stress!
Run Down and Sick
Certain immune boosting vitamins and nutraceuticals are critical when illness has struck including zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and probiotics. Supplementing when fighting off the flu is a proven way to reduce severity and or duration of illness.
Vegetarian or Vegan Diets
Certain diets can be quite restrictive and cause nutrient deficiencies. Vegetarian and vegan diets by nature may be low in iron and protein. If followed long-term iron supplementation may be necessary and incorporating a vegan protein powder (eg brown rice or pea protein) may help overcome protein deficiency. This will ensure we keep in tip-top shape and our health isn’t compromised by dietary restriction.
When we travel, we may be faced with limited access to usual food and/or fresh food generally. If you’re a typical health foodie, this may cause cravings for leafy greens! To ward off any feelings of vegetable deprivation always pack a green powder to have on hand taken daily.
Super foods receive unfailing attention from all manner of health-devotees! If you’re not yourself familiar, super foods are nutrient-dense foods believed to be particularly beneficial for health and well being. Most evidence behind super foods is traditional, however, super foods in conjunction with a well balanced diet are a great tool for adding a nutritional burst to your day. Some key super foods to add to your shopping list include:
Acai: the acai berry packs a powerful punch when it comes to health, its loaded with 19 different amino acids, fibre, calcium, vitamins and phytochemicals (anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins). The powder blends beautifully in smoothies or stirred into yoghurt!
Maca Powder: Maca is a root plant native to Peru, often found in powder form. It is a popular pick for improving energy levels, stamina, emotional well-being and hormone balance. It has been traditionally used to help promote overall balance in the body including helping the body deal with stress.
Camu Camu: a potent berry from the Amazonia region famous for its high Vitamin-C content. Make Camu Camu your go to for an immune boost. In fact, this little berry boasts 50 times more vitamin C than an orange!
Kombucha tea: a fermented tea using sugar, bacteria and yeast. This tea is rich in live bacteria, which assist to keep your digestive system healthy. It also provides a source of B-vitamins for energy production and nervous system support. If you thought that was all, kombucha is also a rich supply of anti-oxidants effective at combating free-radical damage. Indeed a powerful health tonic with a great taste!
Understandably, the biggest health concerns for parents during childhood are immunity and brain development. Whilst an adequate diet can provide the necessary nutrients to keep kids well, sometimes picky eating or decreased appetite may strike and leave kids with a less than ideal diet. It is in these situations whereby supplements and also superfoods come in handy. Always check dosage for children, as it will differ from standard doses dependent upon age and weight. Some key supplements for children are:
Essential Fatty Acids
Rapidly developing brains are vulnerable to nutrient deprivation; essential fatty acids (especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)) are critical for brain development and brain signalling. Fish oil can provide a concentrated source of DHA/EPA essential fats for children who don’t get enough in their diets. Thankfully most fish oils come in liquid form and can be taken straight from the spoon!
Zinc is important for immunity, memory and neurotransmitter production. Interestingly picky eating may be a sign of zinc deficiency. Low dose zinc can be taken short-term to bump up levels of zinc when a deficiency exists.
Specific probiotic strains have been shown to enhance cellular immune response and support immune function in children (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus). Whilst healthy levels of bacteria may be found in foods such as yoghurt, day-to-day this may be used as maintenance but if your child is recovering from illness they may require a higher dose of good bacteria.
We may identify what our child needs, but getting our child to take it is another matter! Here are some quick tips to help your child get their supplements in:
- Opt for powders which can be taken with water or juice
- Open capsules and pour into smoothies or stir into yoghurt
- Crush tablets and mix into foods
- Purchase natural flavoured fish oils (eg lemon)
Remember, a healthy diet lays the foundation for your health and should be the focus. Bringing in supplements in times of increased need is a healthy step towards faster recovery and providing your body with the resources it needs to cope! However, if you’re prone to looking for health in a bottle, try instead looking for health at the end of your fork, I guarantee it will taste a lot better too!
Australian Bureau of Statistics May 2014, ‘Australian Health Survey, accessed 31 August 2015, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4364.0.55.001main+features12011-12.
Brenna, J et al 2014, ‘Docosahexaenoic acid and human brain development: evidence that a dietary supply is needed for optimal development,’ J Hum Evol, Vol. 77, pp.99-106.
Cruchet, S et al 2015, ‘The use of probiotics in paediatric gastroenterology: A review of the literature and Recommendations by Latin-American Experts,’ Paediatr Drugs, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 199-216.