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I know so many folks are already overwhelmed with food choices; making the right decisions on which foods are the best, what foods to avoid and how to combine all the right proteins, carbs and fats in to a healthy eating plan.  And now we have to add supplements?

We’ve all been there… you’re at your favorite grocery store… and of course by now it’s now a specialty health-related store, not your Safeway or Railey’s.  It’s gotta be Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts or whatever your local “health food” store is, right?

Supplement Overload

Confused about supplements?

Ok, no matter what store you’re in, picture yourself there or remember the last time you were there.  Ever count how many isles and shelves they have for supplements?  Vitamins alone can take up an entire isle.  You’ve got the digestive aids and supplements, probiotics, joint health, heart health, fiber tablets, heartburn relief, the list goes on and on.  Then you’ve got the Omega-3, fish oil, Krill oil, pills, liquids, powders… how many mg’s???

Then there’s the herbs, the “natural” and organic remedies for everything from hemorrhoids to hair loss; from psoriasis to toenail fungus.  Pills for the brain, for your joints, your liver, thyroid and of course, your heart.  Calcium for bone loss, Vitamin D to absorb the calcium.  CQ10 to counteract the use of statins.

Let’s not leave out the whey protein powder, power-aide drinks and athletic performance-enhancing products.

The number of pills, tablets, liquids and powders lining the shelves is daunting.  I could probably go on and on about what is out there, recommendations from doctors, nutritionists, trainers, your friends and relatives.  Overwhelmed? I know I am.

What do you do? And how do you know what to take? Or if you should take any supplements at all?  How do you sort through all the hype and figure out what you really need?

Of course there is no single answer for everyone and I won’t pretend to offer any revelations when it comes to supplements.  But here are a few tips to consider when or if you’re trying to decide what supplements, if any, you want or need to take.

Do you need it?

That’s really what it boils down to.  Avoid the hype – just because someone or some Ad recommends you take something just for all it’s amazing, life-extending benefits, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.  And the reality is, and just look at the picture above, it’s physically and financially IMPOSSIBLE to take all the supplements that are out there.  Could you over-dose on Rose Hips and athletic greens? Add that to hundreds of other supplements and surely you could.

TIP: Research, then only buy and consume dietary supplements that address or fix a specific issue that you are experiencing.  If you want to correct your blood cholesterol numbers naturally without prescription drugs, research and find ways to address that.  Maybe you just started lifting weights and you want to build muscle, or you want to add protein to your diet.  Then, and only then should you research and start taking a protein supplement.  Don’t just get protein because someone said you should.  Know what you’re taking, and why.

Simply, start with what you need, NOT with what is available.

Do your research, read labels and ingredients.

With the knowledge that you’ve gained from  BeyondDiet and other sources about whole, healthy and natural foods, you should be able to recognize ingredients that belong in your healthy eating lifestyle.   So many supplements contain chemical sweeteners, or added sugar.  They may contain soy, soybean oil, etc.  Look for the best possible ingredients.

Avoid the “Sky is falling” hype.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to know there are folks out there, scientists, journalists, doctors and regular folks out there alerting us to so many of the dangers out there; not only natural, but also ones that man has brought on himself.  What I’m talking about though are all the Infomercials and internet sites using these scare tactics to push a product, pill, supplement or whatever that they benefit from the sale of.  It’s ok to be skeptical and cautious.  Check multiple sources, do you own research and come to your own conclusions.  And to repeat what I mentioned above, take supplements because they address a specific need you have, not just because it’s the latest craze.

Being Proactive:

Of course there are multitudes of supplements, vitamins, herbs and natural substances that may prevent future illnesses or conditions.  Wouldn’t it be great to take coconut oil every day to prevent Alzheimer’s?  Some research says that’s true.  Antioxidants to help prevent cancer or some herbs to increase memory and brain function.  This is what can be overwhelming.  If you’re choosing to supplement to prevent some future condition, this is really where you need to do complete research.  Not only could there be long term side effects you or anyone else don’t know about yet, but ultimately you could just be wasting money.

If you’re a woman and want to increase bone health and strength and want avoid osteoporosis, then by all means do what you can to help prevent the condition.  But now more then ever, is the time to do your homework.  Read, research and learn what you can if that is a concern for you.  Do NOT just go to Walmart and buy Vitamin D and Vitamin C or whatever. Know why you’re taking something.

Yes, be proactive about your health.  Just make, good, informed choices.

Listen to your body AND get your blood work done.

It’s one thing to try and address an issue with your health that may be obvious; heartburn, headaches, joint pain, etc.  Listening to your body is the first clue that you may want to address if your healthy diet isn’t changing things.  But for certain, if you’ve just now decided to change your diet from one of junk, processed foods and sugars, then make sure you give your body plenty of time with whole, healthy and natural foods BEFORE adding supplements.  In other words, you can and will correct so many ills just from a healthy and proper diet.  Give it time – at least a couple weeks, even up to a month.  Then, as time goes by and you understand how your healthy diet is affecting your body and health, then start deciding whether or not you want or need to add supplements.

Just as importantly, you should be seeing your doctor on a regular basis.  If anything, to get your blood work done and results analyzed.  It’s one thing to have outward, visible signs(heartburn, etc.,) it’s a whole other thing to know what’s going on inside that you may not have any physical symptoms – like your cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucos, etc.  Use these results to help you determine what, if any, additional supplements you may need to correct or improve your numbers.  And again, if you’re just now changing your diet, make your first set of blood work numbers as a baseline.  Give your new, healthy diet a chance to kick in and rid your body of the toxins and let your healthy diet adjust your levels naturally.  Then, after your next checkup, say in 3 months you can start making some adjustments to your diet and adding supplements.

What am I taking?

I hesitate to write this simply because what I take only applies to ME.  What supplements I take should NOT be considered a recommendation for YOU.  But I do want to illustrate with my own examples what I’ve just written, advised and my thought process behind the decisions.

As a baseline, I will say that prior to fall of 2010, the only supplement I was taking was Glucosamine and fish oil.  The glucosamine I’ll explain in a minute and the fish oil I was taking because I heard or read somewhere that “fish oil is good for your heart and joints….”  Basically, just going on what someone else was telling me, oh and my cholesterol was bordering on too high.

Then, in fall of 2010 I was prescribed a statin medication to lower my cholesterol AND put on a low dose blood pressure medication because I was slightly hypertensive – my blood pressure above normal.  I was pre-diabetic and fat(obese according to my very own doc.)  Long story short, spring of 2011 I found Beyond Diet, changed my eating lifestyle. I lost 60lbs and no longer take ANY prescription or over the counter medications. zero.

My supplements:

Glucosamine/chondrotin: More than 10 years ago, I saw an orthopedic guy because I had hip pain; usually the say after some physical activity like hiking or something.  He said it was probably bursitis (not arthritis) and recommended the Glucosamine. I’ve been taking it for years and it greatly reduced my hip and joint pain.

Fish oil, then Krill oil: As I mentioned one of my early supplements was fish oil – generic from Costco.  I started that because that’s what I thought I was suppose to take to help with cholesterol and other things, but I really didn’t know why.  Once I was told I needed prescription medications to correct a condition, I started to learn what it all meant and began reading and learning as much as I could.  I came to the conclusion that krill oil was the much better choice to help address my cholesterol (increasing HDL,) lowering my triglycerides, etc.  Through my diet and the additional supplement I was able to improve my numbers significantly and no longer take any medications.

Probiotic (TruNature): Simply for digestive health, immune system etc.  Honestly, my wife and I added this to our supplements more from reading and recommendations (going against my own advice!) But turns out, my digestion is better and I can tell it makes a difference.

Vitamin D3, 5,000IU: This was a direct result of my most recent blood test and consultation from a new doctor that actually is more in tune with my thinking about diet and health (as opposed to 50yr old paradigms like eggs are bad for you, etc.)  The doc ran complete blood work and discovered that I was Vitamin D deficient.  Then she explained to me how important Vitamin D3 was – more like a hormone in our bodies rather than a vitamin, and how important and intertwined it is in our metabolism.  A very important vitamin for our overall health.  She also explained how it is directly connect to LDL!  And how my vitamin D deficiency was causing my elevated LDL numbers (160 or something like that.)

So, I’m now on a 5,000IU Vitamin D3 regiment for another 2 months. The vitamin accumulates in the body, so once I reach good levels I will back off the dosage.

Whey Protein: This is purely an occasional supplement since I added weight training to my exercise regiment.  I don’t really want to build or increase muscle, but I’m still trying to burn fat since I haven’t reached my weight goal yet.

Protein powders are probably the most prolific supplement out there; literally hundreds, if not thousands of brands, types and manufacturers.  You can find the full range of cheap, to expensive, from junk to quality.  This was a daunting task researching and honestly I really don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or buying the right stuff.  But based on what I’ve learned and what I don’t want to consume, I began to narrow down my choices and settled on a whey protein called “BioActive Nutrients Grass-Fed 100% Pure Whey Protein Isolate.” And buy it online from “My Natural Markets.   In my own research, I found it to be the most free of any of stuff I’ve learned to avoid.  Additionally the source is from grass-fed dairy which was the final selling point for me.

I don’t use it every day frankly because it would get expensive.  I may add a serving to a smoothie if I want an added protein, but for the most part I use it for a post-workout protein.

“Greens:”  I’ll toss this one here just to show my thought process here.  I’m one of those that doesn’t have a lot of extra cash for supplements that are “the greatest thing since sliced bread…” I know many of you are in the same boat.  I understand and agree with all the great benefits of so many different natural foods, herbs, grasses, etc. etc., but just won’t pull the trigger just “because’ they’re good for me.  INSTEAD, rather than a processed pill, I now simply sneak in plenty of leafy greens in to a breakfast smoothie.  I just try and create my own “greens” as best I can.  So technically I won’t call this a supplement since these are really just a part of my regular diet and meal plans.

So that’s about it.  The main reason I wanted to add this to my blog is because I know many folks are simply overwhelmed by the choices and overload of supplements out there.  Keep things simple, focus on a healthy diet and lifestyle and add supplements as you need them.