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Supplements: what should you be taking?

June 1st 2014 / Catherine Turner


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Vitamin pill popping has become the norm - but which supplements do we really need to keep us energised this summer?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have various part-used bottles and packets of so-called ‘super’ supplements in the cupboard. It may well be that maca root is just the thing to give you the occasional energy boost in a smoothie, but vitamin pill popping can be a real pain. Most of the time I just plain forget to take them, or I find the huge ‘horse’ pill variety just too difficult to swallow never mind digest.

In an ideal world, I would love to not take any supplements at all. But the truth is, I, like most of us, often eat on the run and can’t always get hold of local, organically grown fresh fruit and veg. Our diets just aren’t perfect even if we try to eat as healthily as possible. Having tried all sorts of vitamins and supplements in the past, what I do know is I feel tons better when I take a good multivitamin, and on a big trip to India, I discovered first-hand how probiotics can really help transform digestion (most importantly, I was the only person not to get sick on that particular trip).

More about those specific types of supplements later, but in the meantime, there are other big lessons I’ve learned. Not all supplements are equal - read labels and really know what you are taking. These days I prefer capsules filled with powder (more likely to be as close to ‘food state’ as possible). Moulded tablets often contain fillers and can be difficult to digest. Now we have so much information, we can read exactly what’s in what we’re taking and know a bit about the brand and whether we want to buy into it or not.

Related to the above is what form your supplement comes in. I’ve found that liquids (i.e. tinctures and tonics) and powders (which you can sprinkle into food, or add to juices and smoothies) are much easier for me to take. You’re digesting the supplement more directly, it’s less for your body to break down than a solid pill and may mean you get the nutrients more quickly.

When it comes to what to take, it’s tricky. One size rarely fits all with supplements - we all need different things. If you’re unsure, rather than buying expensive products unnecessarily, take advice. It wasn’t until I had blood tests that I found out that I had low iron (ferritin) stores, and a vitamin D deficiency. A consultation with a nutritional therapist can help pinpoint deficiencies even if they don’t always recommend blood tests. (The best way to find someone is to go by personal recommendation, or you can start your search at the British Association for Nutritional Therapists). Health food stores often have great advisors who can help guide you through the minefield of different brands once you find out what you need. Above all remember that supplements are just that - an addition to a healthy diet. In other words, pill popping vitamins is no substitute for eating well.

Read on to find out the essentials experts take to keep them looking and feeling great throughout the summer....

Multi choice

Tick, tick - a good multivitamin supplement can help to boost our nutritional intake. “I find when I’m busy and travelling a lot, I’ll always take a good multi-vitamin. It just simplifies things and you don’t have to remember to take lots of things,” says Kristy Cimesa, specialist in holistic medicine and skincare and founder of Elemental Herbology.

Examples: Terranova Full Spectrum Multivitamin, £8.50, and Wild Nutrition Food State Daily Multi Nutrient, £30, are both easy to take capsules containing a nutritious combination of powdered food extracts; Floradix Liquid Iron Formula, £10.34, is a liquid form multivitamin with an iron boost - once open take every day as an all round health booster until the bottle is finished.

Power greens

We can’t necessarily munch our way through mountains of kale, seaweeds (such a chlorella) and wheatgrass, but they’re stacked with multi-nutrients. Most are in powdered form and the easiest way to take them is to add to a juice or a smoothie. Nutritional therapist, Eve Kalinik recommends a green smoothie as the perfect summer prep. “A hero combination would be kale, broccoli, spinach, chard, lettuce which has an alkalising effect, meaning it helps bring us into a more balanced PH. Many foods and stressful situations change the body into a more acidic environment, in turn affecting anything from metabolism to mood. Greens are also particularly detoxifying so help to flush out the system generally. Adding things like ginger or chilli, not only give a spicy kick but stimulate circulation and metabolism to help burn a few extra calories.”

Examples: Organic Burst Super Greens Bundle, £35.70 (includes wheatgrass powder and spirulina and chlorella tablets). Pukka Herbs Clean Greens Powder, £25.45, contains wheatgrass, chlorella, kale seed sprouts, fennel seed, peppermint leaf, ginger root, green tea extract.

Go pro

I found out that probiotics protected me from tummy bugs on my travels, but also post detox last summer I realised how much they help improve a griping stomach. Shabir Daya pharmacist, natural health expert and co-founder of health website victoriahealth.com explains why. “Probiotics are involved in the last stage of digestion helping to break down stagnant food that would otherwise lead to bloating. Since they break down food, they also allow maximum release of nutrients from food and crucially help to produce immune enhancing compounds to ensure optimum gut health. In keeping the intestines healthy, there is less likelihood of gastric distress when travelling”.

Examples: Mega Probiotic ND by Food Science of Vermont, £18.50, is Daya’s recommendation - the dose can be doubled up if you already suffer from a gastrointestinal disorder he says. Symprove Probiotic, £21.95, is an easy to take liquid or in capsule form, Biokult Advanced Multi-Strain Formula, £19.90.

Expert Picks for Summer

Eve Kalink: “I tend to recommend more food based supplements such as turmeric. This is a wonderful spice as not only does it help support detoxification processes but also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.”

Shabir Daya: “Taking Vitamin B1 in doses of 500mg per day for no longer than a couple of months is thought to be of great benefit in preventing insect bites and stings. This is because after ingesting B1, we emit an odour that is imperceptible to the human nose but not to the flying insects.”

Kirsty Cimesa: “My travel essentials are ginger for travel sickness, lavender oil to induce sleep when on a plane or jet lagged (I put a few drops on a tissue) and aloe vera juice to cool and soothe overheated skin.”

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