I received a great question to my Facebook page last week asking the reason behind my vitamin selection. This is a great question because so many of us (my past-self included) would take supplements and not really understand why. I would take a supplement because I heard it was healthy and that’s all I really needed to know (so I thought). There is SO much nutrition and health misinformation out there now and I encourage everyone to think critically about the information they hear before implementing it in their lives.
SO – today I want to go through some of the top supplements that I take and that I recommend to clients most often.
If you’ve read any of my post you know I am a huge advocate of the “food first” approach, meaning – if you can get a vitamin or mineral from food, then by all means get it from food. I used to preach that we could get all of our nutrients from our food, but as I dug into more and more research and worked with more and more clients, I realized that it would be irresponsible for me to suggest this. Getting our nutrients from food is always going to be number one, but strategic supplementation is important and very necessary, in most cases.
Before we start I must mention: please do not start a new supplement regimen without discussing it with your personal health practitioner. Some supplements can have an adverse reaction with other medications or could be toxic at high levels.
So let’s start with the basics.
The first supplement that I recommend to almost everyone is a good quality vitamin D supplement. If you remember from this post here, vitamin D plays a critical role in our body as it is important for bone health, immunity and cognitive function.
How much vitamin D a person needs is going to vary depending on ethnicity, where you live and your lifestyle (a typical recommendation is 1000-5000 IU per day). Right now in Alberta our provincial health care no longer allows us to get our vitamin D levels checked, which is extremely unfortunate given the role of vitamin D in our overall health.
You do have to worry about vitamin D supplementation at high levels due to the fact that it is a fat-soluble vitamin (meaning we can’t just pee it out if we have too much). Typically we must supplement with over 10,000 IU per day for a period of several months before we need to worry about toxicity. Vitamin D is beneficial for bone health because it enhances the absorption of calcium. Too much vitamin D can cause high levels of calcium in our blood (called hypercalcemia).
The symptoms of hypercalcemia include (1):
I love when vitamin D is in combination with vitamin K2 (which we can find in the diet from grass fed dairy products). Vitamin K2 helps with the proper absorption and utilization of calcium in the body. We want calcium to be deposited into our bones, and vitamin K2 helps with that (sometimes we can end up with calcium deposits in our blood vessels and kidneys, something we want to avoid).
I can’t stress the importance of good quality enough when I talk about omega-3 supplements. Many people pop a fish oil everyday but why is it important? If you remember back to my post on cooking fats you know that omega-3 fats are potent anti-inflammatories. Inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases and most of us walk around with low-grade inflammation all of the time. To keep inflammation under control we want to make sure we have a good balance of omega-3 fats in relation to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats are PRO-inflammatory and omega-3 fats are ANTI-inflammatory. A great relationship between omega-3 and omega-6 is somewhere between 1:1 and 4:1.
Two of the major ways we can help get our omega-3:omega-6 ratios balanced is by reducing consumption of omega-6-rich oils like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil and increasing our intake of omega-3-rich foods like fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, trout, etc). If you look, these inflammatory oils are used A LOT in store bought salad dressings and condiments - so be mindful of this and always look at the ingredient list.
As I’ve noted in previous posts – I don’t recommend plant-based foods containing omega-3 fats as a good way to decrease inflammation. Plant sources of omega-3 fats contain a type of omega-3 fat called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). In order to be used properly in the body ALA must be converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (the animal sources of omega-3 fats). This would not be an issue if the conversion of ALA to DHA/EPA wasn’t so poor. In a healthy person the conversion from ALA to DHA and EPA is under 5%. If you are following a vegan diet, I recommend NutraVege – an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
One of my FAVOURITE ways to get in omega 3 fats with some vitamin D and active vitamin D is through cod liver oil. If you're wondering which brands I use and recommend, you can check out my dispensary here to get professional grade supplements at a discount and see exactly what I use every single day!
There are two types of magnesium supplements that I recommend for two different reasons. Magnesium glycinate I recommend to clients who are struggling with getting good quality sleep, whether it’s difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep, this supplement can often do the trick (better than melatonin, in my opinion). I suggest 400 mg of magnesium glycinate in the evening to start and typically the 400 mg dosage is enough to do the trick. If you want to read more about the benefits of magnesium, check out my post here.
The second type of magnesium supplement I recommend to clients is magnesium citrate. This supplement I recommend as a better alternative to laxatives from the pharmacy. Again, 400 mg in the evening is usually enough to do the trick but be sure to check with your personal health practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen.
A vitamin B complex can be helpful for many people, especially those who are just coming off of birth control, since the pill has a negative effect on vitamin B status in the body. Supplementing with a vitamin B complex may also be useful if you consume alcohol on a regular basis, since alcohol consumption depletes B vitamin levels (particularly thiamin).
I also recommend a vitamin B/C supplement for those who struggle with stress management. If you remember from this post, vitamin C and B vitamins have been associated with lower levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) and our perceived levels of stress.
Probiotics are so incredibly important to our overall health and wellbeing. Not only is our gut our first line of defense against infection and invasion of pathogens but it's also responsible for the majority of our serotonin (feel good chemical) production. There is a strong relationship between gut health and levels of depression, making probiotics key not only for digestion but also for our mental health. Read more about this relationship here.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid (building block of protein) in our bodies. Glutamine is made in the body but we also get it from protein sources like beef, pork, milk, yogurt, ricotta/cottage cheese, poultry, raw spinach, parsley and cabbage. Periods of prolonged stress can lower our glutamine levels and make supplementation extremely valuable. I often suggest clients with serious digestive issues to try supplementation with l-glutamine powder twice per day. Also, if you remember from my post on sugar cravings, l-glutamine can also be helpful in reducing cravings when they strike.
Tip: if you’re using a powdered l-glutamine supplement, only use it with cold or room temperature foods or liquids, as heat will destroy the glutamine and it will no longer be effective.
So often there are so many fillers in the supplements we find on the shelf that they may even do more harm than good. We should be looking for third party testing on all of our supplements to make sure that what they say is in the bottle is acutally in the bottle! For access to high quality supplements, click here and don't forget to consult your personal care practitioner for guidance on what is right for you.
Have some time and want to watch an interesting Fifth Estate episode on the supplement industry? Click here.
Do you have a question you'd like answered? Submit your question here.
Until next time,
Yours in Health,
Contrary to popular belief, bloating throughout the day is not normal and we have the power to engage in activities and restructure our eating schedule to help banish the bloat!
First, it is important to understand that our digestive process is not triggered only when we begin eating. Our digestive systems start firing before the point when we put food into our mouths. Can you remember a time when you smelled a delicious meal cooking and your mouth began to water? Saliva production helps prepare our mouths with the enzymes needed to begin the digestive process (digestion actually begins in the mouth, but we will talk more about that later).
We (I use this term loosely – I do not remember this) use to live in a world where convenience foods were not an option and meals took time to prepare and had to be prepared from scratch. Seeing and smelling food cooking gets the body ready to eat and acts as a signal that a meal is coming. Unfortunately, many of the meals we consume can be ready in an instant – from takeout options to microwave dinners. When we consume these types of meals, we don’t get the same “warm up” before the meal as we do when we prepare our own meals.
I totally understand that it is not always possible for us to prepare our meals from scratch three times per day (plus, I usually recommend that my clients batch prepare meals). What I would suggest if all you need to do is heat up a meal before eating would be either to reheat your meal in the oven rather than the microwave (this takes a little more time and it allows the aroma of the food to flood the house) and/or take a few minutes before beginning the meal to
In order to properly digest your food, you must be in a parasympathetic state (think: rest and digest) rather than a sympathetic state (think: fight or flight). How many times have you scarfed down your lunch at your desk before a meeting? This is a perfect example of eating in a sympathetic or stressed state. Eating while in a sympathetic state makes it much more difficult for the body to begin properly digesting our food, making it much more likely that we end up with digestive issues such as bloating or indigestion.
So how can we avoid this? It may sound obvious but taking time (20 minutes or more) to enjoy your meal away from distractions such as your phone, computer or television is a great start!
Tied in with the last point - taking time to eat your meals is important. Next time you eat a meal, I want you to look at the clock prior to beginning your meal and directly following as well. Believe it or not, for optimal digestion (and feeling of satisfaction) it should take you at least 20 minutes from start to finish.
Chewing our food is the first step in the digestion process. So often we eat far too quickly and only chew each mouthful a few times before swallowing. When we swallow food that is not adequately broken down by chewing, it places more stress on the rest of our digestion system to properly breakdown the food to get it ready for absorption and elimination.
Improperly chewing our food is one of the major causes of bloating and by simply focusing on chewing 20-30 times before swallowing often makes a huge difference in whether or not we experience bloating after a meal.
Listen, this is coming from a recovering gum chewing addict (anyone close to me can attest to this) – chewing gum is not something I recommend if you’re struggling with any digestive issues. Not only do you swallow a significant amount of air when chewing gum but most conventional gum also contains artificial sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal upset when consumed in excess (10 grams per day usually causes unwanted symptoms).
For clients reporting bloating and digestive issues I typically recommend avoiding consuming liquid (yes, even water) with meals. Although a lot of this evidence is anecdotal in nature, I find it can be extremely helpful for some of my clients. The idea is that when we consume too much liquid during mealtime we can dilute our gastric juices making it more difficult to properly digest our food. If you typically drink with your meals but struggle with digestive issues, I suggest avoiding water 30 minutes before a meal and 30 minutes after a meal.
Do you have a history of popping TUMS on a semi-regular basis? Do you have uncontrollable and unexplained heartburn? Believe it or not, heartburn is often caused by lack of stomach acid rather than too much stomach acid. Let’s bring back a little high school chemistry – our ideal stomach pH range is 1-3 but when we take antacids we can raise our stomach pH to 4-5. Not only does raising our stomach pH put us at risk for getting ill (the acidity in our stomach kills a lot of bacteria and parasites, which keeps us healthy) but it also hinders our digestive process. The acidity in our stomach plays a major role in the breakdown of protein (called denaturation) and when the pH of our stomach is not within the ideal range our digestion is impaired and we can experience side effects such as bloating.
If you suspect that you’re dealing with low stomach acid, the first thing I would suggest is an apple cider vinegar drink. Start with mixing 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water and drinking it three times each day before meals. Make sure you’re consistent with this practice to see maximum results.
If the apple cider vinegar drink helps but not quite enough, a digestive enzyme containing betaine HCl may do the trick. I don’t recommend supplementing with this on your own without the advice of your personal health practitioner.
If you try all of the above recommendations and still struggle with bloating, I suggest working with your personal health care provider (integrative physician or dietitian) on a supplement protocol including a good quality probiotic, digestive enzyme containing HCl and ruling out a candida albicans overgrowth.
Hopefully these tips will help you battle the bloat and rid post-meal discomfort and the need for Joey's "Thanksgiving pants".
Do you still have questions about digestion? Submit your questions in the comments below or through the Ask the RD form here.
Yours in Health,
Today we are going to cover some useful information on a spice and supplement that has been getting quite a bit of media attention over the past year. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, chronic inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many things we can do in terms of diet to help decrease the inflammation in our body, including a high intake of omega-3 fats and a reduced intake of omega-6 fats, sugar and trans fats. Lifestyle factors also play a role in keeping inflammation at bay, including adequate sleep and stress management.
Curcumin is the main active ingredient and powerful antioxidant found in turmeric. You are likely familiar with turmeric, as it is responsible for giving curry its yellow color. Turmeric has been used traditionally for its medicinal properties for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, sprinkling turmeric on your food may not give you the potent anti-inflammatory benefits you’re looking for, as pure turmeric powder averages only 3.14% curcumin by weight (1).
Tip: If you’re using turmeric for its anti-inflammatory health benefits, I recommend pairing turmeric with black pepper. A component of black pepper called piperine enhances the absorption of curcumin by 2000%. However, if you’re using turmeric to help reduce inflammation in the intestines, you should AVOID consuming pepper with turmeric to enhance absorption. When using turmeric for combatting intestinal inflammation, it is not necessary that the turmeric is absorbed into the bloodstream and instead you want it to reach your intestines.
Research on the long-term benefits of turmeric use are limited, however there are consistent results suggesting that curcumin can be beneficial for many different conditions. Let’s review some recent findings:
Research is also emerging in the area of curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease. In one particular 6-month trial, curcumin was provided at 1 or 4 grams per day in a population of individuals 50 years and older who were experiencing a cognitive decline for at least 6 months prior to the beginning of the trial. The MMSE (a rating scale used for Alzheimer’s) was then tested and scores increased in the placebo group but were mostly halted in the group supplementing with curcumin (a higher score indicates increased cognitive decline). More research must be conducted in this are due to the small sample size (27 subjects) and other confounding factors that must be controlled but it is very promising to see these results, even from a small sample (4).
As we’ve just covered, there is a significant amount of research indicating that supplementing with turmeric is very promising at reducing pain and inflammation, so why isn’t everyone supplementing? Inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases so wouldn’t everyone benefit from taking a turmeric supplement?
Right now there is no consensus on what dosage is appropriate and recommended dosage varies from person to person. More research is needed before this supplement becomes more mainstream but it is showing a lot of promise and could be beneficial for you (be sure to talk to your personal health practitioner before beginning any supplement regimen).
In order to increase absorption of curcumin, the turmeric supplement must contain black pepper extract or piperine.
If you’re not supplementing and simply adding more turmeric to your meals, always add black pepper to the dish.
As with many supplements, patience is key. If you decide to supplement with turmeric, please be sure to be consistent with intake over at least eight weeks, as it may take this long for benefits to become apparent. Many of the research studies conducted using turmeric/curcumin supplements lasted 6 months, so be prepared to be patient as it may take this amount of time to achieve maximum benefits.
If you cannot find a turmeric supplement at your local health food store that meets the above standards, here is a link to a good quality supplement available on Amazon.
According to Dr. Andrew Weil, you should not supplement with turmeric if...
Important to note:
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
2 medium white onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to season
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut into florets
4 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 cup coconut milk
Freshly ground black pepper, to season
1/4 cup roasted cashew halves, for garnish (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, for garnish (optional)
Red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat until shimmering. Cook the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt until onions are soft and translucent, 8 to 9 minutes.
Reduce heat to low, add garlic, and cook for 2 additional minutes.
Add cauliflower, broth or water, coriander, turmeric, cumin, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer until cauliflower is fork-tender, about 15 minutes.
Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender until smooth and then return the soup to the soup pot. (Alternatively, use an immersion blender to purée the soup right in the pot.)
Stir in the coconut milk and warm the soup. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or spices if you’d like.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a handful of toasted cashews, a few springs of parsley, sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and a dash of olive oil to top.
Do you think supplementing with turmeric is right for you? Do you currently supplement with it? What have been your experiences? Please share in the comments below!
Also, I share nutrition information almost daily on my Facebook page. Please be sure to follow me here. If you find the information I share helpful, please share with your friends and family. There are many new and exciting things coming up the next month that I cannot wait to share with you all!
Yours in Health,
Did you know that in 2013, an estimated 3 million Canadians (that is a whopping 11.6%) aged 18 years and older reported having an anxiety or mood disorder?
Did you also know that you can help combat anxiety and depression using changes to your diet and lifestyle?
In order to make this topic a little more manageable, I have broken it up into "part 1" and "part 2". Today in Part 1 we will go through some of the most important nutrients needed to fight anxiety and depression then in Part 2 we will discuss foods that can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and how we can help reduce these feelings using diet and lifestyle.
This amino acid became famous for it’s presence in turkey and has gotten all of the blame for the "post-turkey coma" experienced after most major holiday dinners.
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel calm.
There are many foods high in tryptophan, including:
However, there is some debate as to whether or not tryptophan is able to cross the blood-brain barrier (tryptophan must compete with other amino acids in the body for absorption into the brain). Luckily, we can help to increase the amount of tryptophan absorbed by eating foods rich in tryptophan with foods containing complex carbohydrates.
What would this look like? This could be turkey or salmon served with a side of roasted sweet potato (complex carbohydrate) or nuts and seeds served as a snack with a side of fruit (complex carbohydrate). When we consume carbohydrates our pancreas produces insulin. Insulin is our storage hormone and it allows amino acids to be absorbed into the muscles and other areas of the body. This leaves tryptophan (another amino acid) behind in the “amino acid pool”, making it more likely that it will be absorbed across the blood-brain barrier.
In Summary: Pair foods rich in tryptophan with foods containing complex carbohydrates in order to get the maximum calming benefit.
Studies have demonstrated a relationship between B vitamins and mood. B vitamin deficiencies can trigger symptoms of depression in some individuals. I always recommend a food first approach, so see my post here for a list of foods rich in B vitamins.
We touched briefly on omega-3 fatty acids when we talked about inflammation in the body last week but did you know that these fatty acids also enhance our mood? Some studies have shown that patients who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements in addition to their antidepressants improved more than those patients who did not take omega-3 supplements. We can find omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA – the useable form of this fat) in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, sardines, tuna and anchovies. Don’t get this confused with the omega-3 fats found in plant sources such as ground flaxseed, chia seeds and flaxseed oil (this type of omega-3 fat is called ALA). In order to get the same health benefits we receive when we eat fatty fish we must convert the ALA into the useable form DHA and EPA. Don’t be fooled though, the conversion rate in a healthy individual is less than 5%. In conclusion, I don’t recommend relying on plant sources of omega-3 as the only source of omega-3 fats in your diet. If you are vegan and refuse to consume a fish-based supplement, I recommend NutraVege, an omega-3 supplement derived from the echium plant and algae.
Norepinephrine and dopamine are neurotransmitters that carry impulses between nerve cells. Higher levels of these neurotransmitters have been shown to improve mental energy and alterness. Protein in our diet helps to stimulate the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. See this post on hormones and brain chemicals and their affect on our weight.
As we've discussed earlier, serotonin is our calming "feel good" chemical. Did you know that most of the serotonin we have in our body is actually produced in the gut? In order to get the maximum serotonin production within the gut, it must be healthy. Hippocrates said "All disease begins in the gut" and is that ever true. Not only our physical health but our mental health is impacted by the state of our gut.
We will discuss probiotic benefits in detail in a future post, however we must touch on them today when discussing using food as medicine for treating depression and anxiety. Research in the area of the gut microbiome (the good gut bugs in our large intestine) is exploding and we are learning more and more about the incredible benefits of hosting a robust population of good gut bacteria.
Researchers working with mice have determined that by disrupting the normal bacterial content of the gut by introducing antibiotics, changes in the mice behaviour occurs with the mice becoming anxious. Along with this change in behaviour, there was also an increase in Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which has been linked to anxiety and drepression (1).
Some of my favourite ways to incorporate probiotics into my diet is through food. My absolute favourite way is through drinking a fermented coconut water called Kevita. This retails for $3.99-5.99 and we can now get it at our major supermarket (hello mainstream). I recommend drinking 1/2 of a bottle at one time and ensuring it is always refrigerated. To get a variety of strains of probiotics, kefir, raw sauerkraut and fermented pickles are all great sources as well!
This is the obvious one. Antibiotics are used to kill harmful bacteria in the body but they often wipe out some of our good bacteria as well. After a course of antibiotics it is critical that you adopt a probiotic regimen for at least 2 weeks following the last dose of antibiotic.
Stress levels can negatively impact the population of our good gut bacteria as well. This stress does not have to be mental stress alone. Stress could also stem from lack of sleep, poor nutrition or too much exercise. The gut/brain connection is a two-way street: the gut can impact the brain and the brain can impact the gut. This connection has been demonstrated time and time again in our rodent friends (2).
This one may come as a shocker since most women are or have been on birth control pills at some point in their lives. Taking these "innocent" little pills can also alter the population of good gut bacteria in our digestive tract.
Believe it or not, foods containing processed sugars can lead to imbalances between the good and bad gut bacteria we have. These processed sugars feed the “bad” bacteria and starve the good (vegetables rich in prebiotics – think: garlic, onion, asparagus) feed our good bacteria. When we include these processed sugar-containg foods in our diet more frequently we put ourselves at risk of developing an imbalance in bad versus good bacteria (called gut dysbiosis).
That concludes Part 1 of this topic. Please tune in for Part 2 coming later this week where we will talk about foods to eliminate or reduce to help decrease anxiety/depression and diet and lifestyle changes we can make to help us feel better.
If you find this information useful please share this site with your family and friends. It is through organic means that I hope to grow my followers and you, my readers, are my biggest helpers in this!
Thanks so much for tuning in guys!
Yours in Health,
Stress affects our physical and mental health in many different ways. It impacts our ability to sleep, properly digest our food, reduces immune function and affects our mood. You may think to yourself, “I’m not stressed” – however, we are now exposed to low-grade stressors all of the time – think: working a full-time job, taking care of children and trying our best to be a great friend, wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, etc. When we are subjected to constant low-grade stressors our body responds the same way it would if we had something traumatic occur.
Research has repeatedly shown that dietary deficiencies in several micronutrients have been associated with increased levels of stress and psychiatric symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals.
Supplementation with micronutrients to overcome these dietary deficiencies has been observed to improve perceived stress, mild psychiatric symptoms, and some aspects of everyday mood in a recent meta-analysis of studies examining short-term multivitamin supplementation. (Lewis et al, 2013)
So which came first – the stress or the nutrient deficiency?
That we don’t really entirely know. However research has shown that supplementation with a multivitamin once a person is already stressed decreases markers of anxiety and stress including blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Schlebusch and colleagues used a well-designed protocol, and screened for a highly stressed sample. After 30 days of supplementation, significant treatment effects were evident, with the multivitamin reducing the level of anxiety and stress and improving psychological well-being. (Lewis et al, 2013)
Now, before we all rush out to pick up any multivitamin on the drug store shelves, let’s look a little closer at the nutrients that appear to have the biggest impact on markers of mood, anxiety and stress – B vitamins and vitamin C.
Studies show that when people are asked to perform psychological challenges, individuals who have high levels of vitamin C do not show the physical and mental signs of stress that are displayed by people with low levels of vitamin C. Additionally, people with higher levels of vitamin C in their blood bounce back from stress more quickly than people with low levels of vitamin C.
In one particular study, researchers subjected 120 people to a stressful task that included public speaking while solving math problems. Half of the study participants were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C. The signs of stress that were measured included levels of the stress hormone cortisol, blood pressure and self-reported stress. These markers were significantly higher in the study participants who were not given the vitamin supplement.
Additional studies have shown that treatment of 1,000 mg of vitamin C three times per day for 14 days decreased cortisol levels, blood pressure and perceived levels of psychological stress
This consistent link between vitamin C levels and stress has led to researchers suggesting that vitamin C be used as an integral component of stress management.
Because I like the “food first” approach, let’s look at where we can get vitamin C from our food.
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of
|Males 19 and older||90||2000|
|Females 19 and older||75||2000|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||85||2000|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||120||2000|
It’s important to note that some research suggests that the above number of milligrams suggested daily is simply enough to prevent the development of scurvy (a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds) rather than an amount to aim for.
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of vitamin C (in descending order) include:
*Keep in mind – vitamin C is destroyed by heat. So it is best to consume vitamin C-rich foods raw if possible
If you’re choosing a supplemental form of vitamin C, it’s best to go with a time-released supplement since vitamin C is rapid and short acting. Alternatively, you can break up the dose throughout the day (for example, 500 mg in the morning and 500 mg in the afternoon or evening) to provide a similar effect.
Next up is B vitamins
The superstar B vitamins we will talk about here are: vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12 and folate.
The importance of vitamin B6, B12 and folate is linked to their ability to lower blood levels of homocystine. Homocysteine is an amino acid and is released into the blood when protein is broken down. When homocystiene is present in high concentrations (normal range is 5 to 15µmol/L) it has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. High levels of homocysteine are also linked to Alzheimer’s, dementia, declining memory, poor concentration and lowered mood.
One double blind, randomized placebo-controlled study (the gold standard for all scientific studies) showed improvements in anxiety, depression and overall mental health in subjects after 60 day treatment with a vitamin B complex supplement containing whole-food nutrients.
Now that we know how useful these B vitamins can be, let’s take a look at where we can get them in our diet.
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of mg/day||Stay below|
|Men 19 and older||1.2||A safe upper limit has not be established|
|Women 19 and older||1.1|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||1.4|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||1.4|
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of vitamin B1 (in descending order) include:
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of mg/day||Stay below|
|Men 19 and older||1.1||A safe upper limit has not be established|
|Women 19 and older||1.3|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||1.4|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||1.6|
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of vitamin B2 (in descending order) include:
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of Niacin Equivalents (NE/day)||Stay below|
|Men 19 and older||16||35|
|Women 19 and older||14||35|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||18||35|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||17||35|
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of vitamin B3 (in descending order) include:
As a dietary supplement, 5-10 mg pantothenic acid has been used.
|Age||Recommended Daily Intake (mg/day)||Stay below|
|Infants 0-6 months||1.7||Amounts up to 10 grams have been ingested without significant adverse effects|
|Infants 7-12 months||1.8|
|Children 1-3 years||2 mg|
|Children 4-8 years||3 mg|
|Children 9-13 years||4 mg|
|Men and women 14 and older||5 mg|
|Pregnant women||6 mg|
|Lactating women||7 mg|
Limited data is available on the pantothenic acid content of foods, but chicken, beef, potatoes, tomato products, liver, kidney, egg yolk, and broccoli are reported to be among the major nutrient dense sources.
Various processing methods, including freezing and canning of vegetables, fish, meat and dairy products, as well as refining of grains, have been reported to reduce the pantothenic acid content of foods.
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of mg/day||Stay below (mg/day)|
|Women 51 and older||1.5||100|
|Men 51 and older||1.7||100|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||1.9||100|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||2.0||100|
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of vitamin B6 (in descending order) include:
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of micrograms (mcg/day)||Stay below (mcg/day)|
|Men and women 19 and older||2.4||An upper limit has not been established|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||2.6|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||2.8|
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of vitamin B12 (in descending order) include:
|Age in Years||Aim for an intake of (mcg/day)||Stay below (mcg/day)|
|Men and women 19 and older||400||1000|
|Pregnant women 19 and older||600||1000|
|Breastfeeding women 19 and older||500||1000|
Some of the most nutrient dense food sources of folate (in descending order) include:
So how exactly can we apply what we’ve learned to our daily lives? The next time we are feeling stressed or anticipate a stressful week or month, instead of reaching for that cliché pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a Xanax, whip up a delicious anti-stress meal full of these powerful vitamins.
5 ounces cooked wild Pacific Sockeye Salmon, chopped into small pieces
1 cup of sliced peppers, diced
¼ cup of shelled sunflower seeds
3 cups of fresh spinach
½ cup of balsamic vinegar
¼ cup of maple syrup
2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients for dressing in a blender or with a whisk.
Combine peppers and spinach in a large bowl and top with salmon and sunflower seeds.
Add 2 tablespoons of prepared dressing and toss the salad.
Eat and be merry
Yours in health,
Food Sources of Folate. (2015) Available at: http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Folate.aspx
Food Sources of Niacin. Available at: http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Niacin.aspx
Food Sources of Thiamin. Available at: http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Thiamin-(Vitamin-B1).aspx
Food Sources of Vitamin B6. Available at: http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-B6-(Pyridoxine).aspx
Food Sources of Vitamin B12. (2015) Available at: http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Vitamins/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-B12.aspx
Lewis et al. (2013). The Effect of Methylated Vitamin B Complex on Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms and Quality of Life in Adults with Depression. ISRN Psychiatry.
Oliveira et al. (2015). Effects of oral vitamin C supplementation on anxiety in students: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences. 18(1) 11-18.
Pantothenic acid and biotic. Available at: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002410.htm
Weil, Andrew (2015). Elevated Homocysteine. Available at: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03423/Elevated-Homocysteine.html
Welcome back for part 2 of Choosing a Prenatal Supplement (you can read part one here)! In this post we will finish our discussion on prenatal supplement components and what to look for when selecting this important multivitamin from store shelves!
When looking for an omega 3 supplement, you want to make sure it contains two different omega 3 fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosopentaenoic acid). DHA is critical for fetal brain development. A pregnant woman’s body will transfer all of the DHA possible across the placenta to the fetus even if this means depleting the mother’s stores entirely. EPA is important in helping to prevent postpartum depression. Finally, omega 3 supplements have been shown to extend gestation and increase birth weight.
In randomized trials using a DHA supplement versus a placebo, the supplement improved infants’ visual acuity and growth as well as helped prevent maternal depression (Maizes, 2013)
When looking at the label, check to see that the fish oil is molecularly distilled, which means that heavy metal and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminants that are present in many fish are removed. Look for a supplement with DHA and EPA adding up to 1000 mg and take with the largest meal of the day.
Nutrient dense food sources of DHA and EPA: mackerel, herring, salmon (wild pacific sockeye salmon is best), sardines, trout.
Don’t be fooled by foods such as ground flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed oil as being a good source of omega 3. These foods contain the form of omega 3 known as ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which must be converted in the body into DHA and EPA to have the benefits listed above. Unfortunately, the conversion rate from ALA to DHA/EPA is believed by researchers to be less than 1% in healthy individuals.
A Canadian survey of 176 pregnant women revealed that while 90 percent were taking multivitamins, none were taking the vitamins with omega 3, and only 11 percent were taking separate omega 3 supplements (Maizes, 2013)
A large percentage of women living in northern latitudes have low vitamin D status, this is a nutrient of significant importance. See my post on vitamin D here for food sources and additional information on the importance of the sunshine vitamin.
There is evidence in animal studies and some from human trials that fertility is impaired if the mother has a low vitamin D level. She will have a harder time getting pregnant and once pregnant, she will have an increased risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes (Maizes, 2013)
The Institute of Medicine considers vitamin D doses of up to 4,000 IU/day to be safe. My recommendation to clients is to get his/her vitamin D levels checked based on a supplement dosage of 1000-2000 IU/day and then have levels checked once every 6-12 months after until consistently in the normal range.
It is worth noting that many multivitamins, including prenatal multivitamins, only contain 200 IU of vitamin D. If you already have an inadequate vitamin D status (anything less than 50 ng/L according to the vitamin D council) than 200 IU/day is unlikely to correct this inadequacy.
Nutrient dense food sources of vitamin D: milk, yogurt, egg yolk, salmon, mackerel, herring, trout.
Calcium is needed during pregnancy to help with baby’s bone development (particularly in the third trimester) and to keep mother’s bones strong during this time as well. Women need 1,000-1,300 mg of calcium during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I suggest focusing on food first for calcium however, many women struggle to get in enough calcium to meet pregnancy and post-partum needs. If choosing to supplement, it is recommended to split up calcium supplements because we cannot absorb more than approximately 500 mg of calcium at one time.
Nutrient dense food sources of calcium: green vegetables, milk products, salmon, sardines.
Pregnant women use vitamin E for preventing complications in late in pregnancy due to high blood pressure.
Check the label on your prenatal multivitamin for dl alpha tocopherol. Dl alpha tocopherol is the synthetic form of vitamin E and indicates that the product is poor. What you should see is d-alpha tocopherol or even better, 200-400 IU of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. Synthetic forms of vitamin E are generally derived from petroleum products and are not as bioavailable as natural vitamin E.
Women at particular risk of low vitamin B12 levels include: vegan or strict vegetarians, women taking proton pump inhibitors or other acid blockers (think TUMS, Rolaids, etc.) or have been on the birth control pill for several years. Women with type 2 diabetes mellitus or polycystic ovarian syndrome who are prescribed metformin are also at risk of low vitamin B12 levels, due to the depletion that this drug causes.
Vitamin B12 is essential during pregnancy for DNA synthesis and low levels of this vitamin increases risks of repeated miscarriage and birth defects.
The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg during perception and 2.6 mcg during pregnancy. You may notice that many vitamin B12 supplements on store shelves are quite high in comparison to the recommended dietary allowance. This is due to the fact that absorption of 100% of what is in the supplement does not occur. For example, a supplement with 1,000 mcg of oral vitamin B12 leads to absorption of about 20 mcg.
Nutrient dense food sources of vitamin B12: animal meat (particularly organ meat), fish, milk products and fortified almond milk, nutritional yeast.
Additional vitamins and trace minerals
Trace minerals in a multivitamin should include copper, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Just remember: taking a supplement never takes the place of consuming nutrient dense foods. Think of a supplement as what it is - a supplement to your currently awesome, nutrient dense diet.
Until next time nutrient seekers..
Yours in health,
Maizes V (2013). Be fruitful: the essential guide to maximizing fertility and giving birth to a healthy child.
This past May I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the Nutrition and Health Conference put on by the Arizona Centre for Integrative Medicine where I was first introduced to the work of medical doctor Victoria Maizes. Dr. Maizes focuses much of her work on fertility, environmental toxins and their impact on the body and women’s ability to conceive.
After returning home and diving into research on environmental toxins and infertility I has the opportunity to share this information with my first client who had been struggling to conceive for the past 3 years. We worked together on reducing her exposure to environmental toxins through skincare products, food storage containers and bottles, as well as avoiding inorganic foods that fall into the “dirty dozen” category (more about that later). My client informs me a few months later that she is pregnant. Coincidence? You might think. However, the research is extremely strong in this area and I hope to share it all with you over the coming months.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning. Taking a prenatal multivitamin is important for many different reasons and I would like to share not only the importance of taking a prenatal vitamin if you are a woman of childbearing age but what exactly to look for and why each nutrient is important. As a big believer in food first, this is definitely one area where I feel a safety net associated with taking a prenatal multivitamin is important.
Below are some of the top reasons why taking a prenatal multivitamin is important:
•Taking a multivitamin may assist with conception
-According to the Nurses Health Study, the longest running study on women’s health, taking a multivitamin helps women conceive. In addition, women in the study who took a multivitamin had a third lower risk of developing ovulatory infertility, compared with women who did not take a multivitamin. Researchers in the study estimated that 20% of all ovulatory infertility cases would be avoided if women took a multivitamin (Maizes, 2013)
•Taking a multivitamin reduces the risk of birth defects in your baby
-It is estimated that protection against birth defects ranges from 25-50% for neural tube defects, cardiovascular defects, limb defects, cleft palate, and urinary tract anomalies (Maizes, 2013)
•Taking a multivitamin lowers the risk of miscarriage
-Research done in 2007 showed that multivitamin supplementation in the first trimester of pregnancy was linked to a 50% decreased risk of miscarriage (Maizes, 2013)
The Child Autism Risks from Genetics and Environment (CHARGE) study, a Northern California case-controlled study, examined the impact of maternal prenatal vitamin consumption in 276 children with autism and 269 children with typical development. According to the study, the women who began taking prenatal vitamins 3 months prior to conception and up to 1 month into pregnancy had a 38% reduced risk of autism in their children, compared to mothers who did not begin taking a multivitamin until later in their pregnancy.
What should I be looking for?
My first recommendations are to look for a food-based supplement and one that is free from unnecessary additives. Some of the unnecessary additives I am referring to are:
•FD&C Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) Lake
•FD&C Yellow # 6 Lake
•FD&C Blue #2 Lake
(I’ll talk more about these additives in a future post – for now, I suggest avoiding them if possible)
Vitamin A is needed for developing vision and immune function of the fetus.
Animal forms of vitamin A are called preformed vitamin A – they are more easily absorbed and used within the body in comparison to vitamin A coming from fruits and vegetables. The type of vitamin A coming from plant sources is known as the pro-vitamin A carotenoids.
Be cautious – It is possible to get too much vitamin A (particularly when taking supplements), which can increase the risk of birth defects.
Maximum dosage of 2500 IU/day. However, if the form of vitamin A on the label says beta-carotene, the maximum dosage increases to 15,000 IU/day (pre-pregnancy) and 5,000 IU/day during pregnancy since less then 10% of carotenoids are converted to the active form of vitamin A within the body.
“Vitamin A is found in significant amounts only in animal products like liver and grass-fed dairy. You’d have to eat a huge amount of beta-carotene from plants to meet vitamin A requirements during pregnancy. For example, 3 ounces of beef liver contains 27,000 IU of vitamin A. To get the same amount of vitamin A from plants (assuming a 3% conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A), you’d have to eat 4.4 pounds of cooked carrots, 40 pounds of raw carrots, and 50 cups of cooked kale” (Chris Kresser, Healthy Baby Code)
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study showed that 9-16% of women between the ages of 12 and 49 are iron deficient. In addition, only 20% of fertile women have adequate iron reserve of 500 mg. Iron is stored in our body but as women, we lose a significant amount of iron during menstruation and childbirth.
Having inadequate iron status prior to and during pregnancy can have a significant impact on fetal development by reducing infant growth rate. If iron deficiency is present prior to conception, this can impact the development of the placenta during early pregnancy.
"According to the Nurses’ Health Study, women who took iron supplements had a 40% lower risk of ovulatory infertility than those who did not take iron supplements” (Maizes, 2013)
Recommended daily iron intake per day is 18 grams for women during the preconception stages, and 27 mg per day for pregnant women.
Nutrient dense food sources of iron: Most bioavailable form of iron is red meat.
One of the side effects of many iron supplements is constipation. Trying to avoid this unpleasant side effect is one of the reasons why many women avoid iron supplementation. Using food-based iron supplements of iron bisglycinate can reduce the constipating effect of iron. See here (https://www.thorne.com/products/dp/iron-bisglycinate) for an iron supplement from a supplement company I trust.
Iodine is essential within the body in the production of thyroid hormone and helping to prevent brain damage. Iodine deficiency is linked to miscarriage and stillbirths.
The recommended daily allowance for iodine is 150 mcg prenatally and 200 mcg while pregnant and breastfeeding.
Food sources of iodine:
Milk, egg yolks, saltwater fish, sesame seeds, asparagus, garlic, spinach, mushrooms, seaweed, dulse, kelp, lima beans.
Folate is a critical nutrient during preconception and pregnancy. Folate is required for the synthesis of DNA and cell division. Unfortunately, 90% of women do not get sufficient folate from their diets alone. Due to the importance of folate in the development of a healthy baby and prevention of neural tube defects, it is recommended by multiple professional organizations that women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid per day. However, there is some controversy around this folic acid recommendation, as supplemental folic acid can mask symptoms of pernicious anemia (anemia linked to vitamin B12 deficiency). The emphasis on folic acid for women of childbearing age regardless of whether or not you plan to become pregnant is related to the fact that beginning to supplement with folic acid at 8-12 weeks into pregnancy is too late.
Although we discuss folic acid (the common synthetic form of folate) more than the food source of folate, there is a difference between the two. Folate in its natural form is better utilized within the body compared to folic acid. Look for folate on the label not as folic acid, rather “folate”, “5-methyl-tetrahydrofolate”, “L-methylfolate” or “Metfolin”.
Nutrient dense food sources of folate: leafy green vegetables, liver, legumes.
Although this is not the end of my list, I will end today’s long-winded blog post here. Be sure to check out “Part 2” for a continuation on prenatal supplements and discussions of omega 3, vitamin D, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin B12 and trace minerals.
Yours in health,