One of the most popular questions we get inside Beyond Diet is...
"Isabel, what are the best supplements to use while following the Beyond Diet program?"
With all the potential products on the market today, I can understand many people’s confusion about the issue. And you may find yourself wondering what exactly is the best choice for someone who is trying to burn fat, maintain weight loss, or just stay healthy overall.
The truth is, of course, that it’s a little complicated. There’s no truth to any statement that "all vitamins and supplements are good for you" or that "none of them work." But if you arm yourself with the right knowledge, there are some rules of thumb that will help you separate the myths from the reality.
In my experience as a nutritionist and weight loss specialist, I’ve done a lot of research in to both the science and the hype behind the vitamins and supplements market. After all of my research and personal experience, there are three recommendations I feel confident giving to ANY person who is trying to lose weight and stay healthy.
(Important NOTE: If you have any medical conditions or concerns, you should always consult your doctor before taking any type of supplement.)
Let’s first discuss the ever-important MICRONUTRIENTS. The word "micronutrients" refers to all of the vitamins and minerals used by our bodies to function and thrive. Because most people don’t know what, if any, micronutrients they might be missing in their own diet, it is very common for folks to take an off-the-shelf multivitamin to "cover all the bases."
While it might seem like taking a daily multivitamin is good insurance in case you miss out on any valuable nutrients in your regular diet, there are recent studies that seem to indicate that, actually, most off-the-shelf multivitamins aren’t going to do anything positive for your health or weight loss.
In December 2013 there was an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that summarized the findings of three different studies about multivitamins and their long-term effects. One of these studies was actually an analysis of 27 separate studies, all of which found that taking a common multivitamin had no preventative effect in terms of cardiovascular disease, cancer or life expectancy.
The second and third studies discussed in the editorial found no connection between taking a multivitamin and decreased risk for cognitive problems or cardiovascular issues. A close look at these studies reveals that people were asked to take a single, low-dose, generic vitamin once a day.
I don’t find the results of these studies at all surprising, because I’ve known for years that the vast majority of off-the-shelf vitamins have a range of problems from improper storage to toxic fillers and bad ingredients. Most vitamins found in off-the-shelf products are actually synthetic vitamins (not the same as naturally-occurring, "food state" compounds). They also don’t contain significant doses of most micronutrients, and aren’t guaranteed to be bio-available – meaning your system doesn’t even absorb them.
As an example, let’s look at America’s number one selling multivitamin – Centrum. Not only is a Centrum multivitamin made up entirely of lose-dose, synthetic, chemical "nutrients" (made in a lab instead of derived from food), but it also contains ingredients like artificial colors, soy, silicon, talc, crospovidone (a potentially harmful binding agent) and titanium dioxide (possibly a human carcinogen).
So what’s a person to do?
Healthy Food is Still the Best Way to Go
The best way to get real, natural, bioavailable vitamins is through a diet filled with nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, nuts, and high-quality sources of protein. If you’re eating the Beyond Diet way, then chances are good that you are already getting most of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
But even the best eaters can be missing out on some essential nutrients. A day of healthy eating on Beyond Diet will normally provide you with a range of micronutrients, but it would be nearly impossible to get adequate amounts of every vitamin and mineral on a regular basis. This is why my #1 recommendation is all about how to get that nutrition "insurance" without taking a useless multivitamin.
Take a raw, whole-foods-based greens supplement every day.
The best way to make sure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients in your diet is to take a "greens" or "superfood" powder. These are made with actual food sources (not synthetic vitamins) and the best brands contain no binders, fillers or synthetic ingredients, and will use a dehydrating process which preserves the original food’s natural compounds and enzymes.
A good greens supplement will provide the right dose of most essential vitamins and minerals, and have the alkalizing properties of whole, fresh vegetables (great for your body’s overall well-being). This does just what you always wished your multivitamin really did...it provides insurance for your health and immune system against those days when you don’t get enough of all the right micronutrients.
I take 1 tablespoon of my favorite brand, Athletic Greens, mixed with water every single day. I haven’t missed a dose in over 3 years! It’s got NO synthetic chemicals, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners of any kind, no GMOs, herbicides, pesticides, no wheat, dairy, gluten, corn, sucrose, dextrose, egg, yeast, peanuts, or animal products...in other words, it's nothing but good for you.
And it does contain 75 specially selected ingredients including raw, nutrient-dense superfoods, beneficial prebiotics and probiotics, and phytonutrients. That's a whole lot of what you need, in a natural and bioavailable form, in just one serving per day.
When you need to get more protein, use a protein powder.
Up until this point, we’ve been talking primarily about micronutrients, which are all of the vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, B12, magnesium or iron. But macronutrients – this refers to protein, fats, and carbohydrates – are also essential to your health and weight loss.
If you’ve been on the Beyond Diet program, then you know that it’s focused on eating the right combination of protein, carbs and fats. Protein and fat help balance out the blood sugar spikes caused by carbs, and this keeps your body from retaining unwanted fat while charging up your energy levels.
But it requires a lot of protein each day to get this effect, and not everyone can have that much meat, beans, nuts or eggs at every meal.
I’ve always recommended a good protein powder for those meals when you just don’t have the time or desire to eat other whole-food sources of protein, but it’s essential to understand what I mean by a "good" protein powder.
You see, most of the protein powders on the market (especially the ones you buy at the store) contain stuff that can have a negative effect on your weight loss efforts and on your health. These ingredients can stall weight loss, make you gain weight, make you tried or hungry, and even make you sick. I’m talking about ingredients like artificial sweeteners and colors, soy, sugar, denatured proteins, and hormones…yes, hormones. Far too many powders contain protein from cows treated with toxic rBGH and rBST growth hormones.
A good protein powder is one that contains NONE of the above and uses cold-processed proteins. My personal favorite is BioTrust Low Carb, which comes in both a Milk Chocolate and Vanilla Cream version (flavored with all-natural, real food ingredients).
I love to have it in a smoothie or as a dessert flavoring when I’m in a rush or I just don’t have a good protein source on hand. A scoop of the Milk Chocolate flavor mixed with 1 cup of coconut milk and 2 tablespoons of chia seeds, chilled in the fridge until thickened (about 30 minutes) is a great treat. It tastes like dessert but has all the protein you need for a snack! Throw some berries on top and you can even have a complete breakfast. Quick and delicious. Yummy!
Take digestive enzymes to make sure your body absorbs nutrients.
Supplementing your diet with both micro and macro nutrients is definitely a great idea, but what if you’re not digesting your nutrients?
Believe it or not, this is a very common problem. Our bodies naturally produce enzymes that break our food down so that it can be absorbed, and raw vegetables and fruits provide additional enzymes to help. But when we get sick, feel stressed out, or grow older we stop producing many necessary enzymes and our digestion starts to suffer. Even the enzymes in raw foods aren’t enough to keep up with the decline in natural production that comes with stress and age.
An insufficient amount and variety of digestive enzymes means you aren’t absorbing all of the nutrients in your food, and can result in a range of uncomfortable symptoms. If you don’t have sufficient enzymes in your gut, you’ll probably feel gassy or bloated after meals, sometimes feel like you have a heavy stomach, suffer from malabsorption symptoms, and/or see undigested food in your stools. Don’t be embarrassed… even nutritionists suffer from these problems!
To get your digestion in top working order (and tame those uncomfortable symptoms) I recommend taking digestive enzymes at every meal, or at least at those meals that are heavier or larger than normal. I take them 3 times a day with all of my non-snack meals and I notice that I feel fuller longer, and don’t get those uncomfortable digestive problems.
And as an added bonus, when you have better digestion you also have a stronger immune system!
I choose BioTrust’s AbsorbMax because it uses 16 different digestive enzymes that will help you break down any type of food (even dairy and gluten, which are infamously hard on your digestive system). Plus, it contains none of those harmful fillers or other ingredients I won’t put in my body.
These three recommendations will ALMOST cover all of your bases when it comes to getting good nutrition every day…but do notice I said "almost."
I generally also recommend a good probiotic and omega-3 fatty acids for most people, but these are more dependent on individual needs.
Does your greens supplement contain a good probiotic (like Athletic Greens does)? Do you eat Greek yogurt or other fermented foods (like miso or sauerkraut) regularly? Then you MAY not need to supplement with a probiotic.
Do you regularly eat salmon, walnuts, sardines, or flax seeds? Then you MAY not need to take a high-quality omega-3 supplement.
Remember that the key to balanced nutrition – getting all of the micro and macronutrients you need to live a long and vibrant life – is in eating a variety of nutritious, whole foods. And if you do decide to supplement your diet with something like a greens powder or digestive enzymes, then avoid off-the-shelf products and instead go online where you can research the ingredients and be sure that you’re not taking something that is actually a waste of your money…or worse, harmful.