Supplements and the Paleo Diet

VitaminsBecause many Paleo dieters are in it for its health benefits, discourse on supplementation comes up often.  And it can be somewhat divisive. Most dieters believe that following a paleo diet without supplements gives you the nutrients your body needs.  But some argue that supplementing can augment the healthfulness of your lifestyle dramatically.

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The main argument for the necessity of supplementation is one with agricultural roots.  It is argued that modern farming practices, even on organic farms, strip the soil of essential minerals and vitamins.  Additionally, pollutants in the air and water supply are thought to decrease the quality of the soil used to grow most crops.  It follows, then, that the produce we eat is not nearly as nutrient-dense as the foods our Stone Age ancestors ate.  Proponents of the paleo diet believe that our bodies are designed for Paleolithic foods, not the nutrient-void farmed foods that we have begun eating since the agricultural revolution.

Those who believe in supplementation especially suggest supplementing vitamin D, particularly if you have dark skin or live near the equator.  Vitamin D is absolutely essential for bone health and to prevent rickets in children.  The vitamin is not found in many foods, which makes it a popular supplement for those wishing to increase their health.  Some proponents of vitamin D supplementation believe that the vitamin can ward off or even cure the common cold.  And, the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements argues definitively that vitamin D has a significant positive effect on cell growth and the immune system.

However, a quick trip out into the sunlight at midday usually provides plenty of vitamin D for your body.  According to Ned Kock of the Health Correlator, simply soaking up some rays for as little as 10 minutes each day provides much more than the amount of vitamin D needed daily.  Some even argue that supplementing with vitamin D can cause premature aging and other adverse health effects.

Another argument against supplementation is that often, the nutrients offered in multivitamins or other supplements are poorly absorbed by the body.  According to paleo expert Sebastien Noel, supplements may even be a cause of bowel irritation. Supplementation is even believed to interfere with the body’s absorption of other nutrients and minerals derived from food sources.  Noel articulates this point well:

“Taking supplemental calcium, for example, will reduce your absorption of magnesium. Even more so, if you take calcium while you lack some fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D, A and K2, the calcium probably won’t go to remineralize your bones and teeth and might end up aggravating the calcification of your arteries. This is why so many people have arthritis and osteoporosis despite consuming large amounts of high-calcium dairy.”

To achieve optimal nutrition, opponents of supplementation argue, simply eat the best foods from nature.  Staying away from grains will increase your body’s absorption of vitamin C and other nutrients and most paleo advocates believe saturated fats are healthy for the body.  High quality, nutrient-dense foods like pastured meats, whole, organic vegetables and nuts and seeds provide large amounts of nutrition and often provide adequate nutrients without the need of supplementation.

Whether you decide to use supplements or not, choosing the course of action that works best for your body is important.  Each person’s lifestyle and situation is unique, and while one may need to supplement with Cod Liver Oil or vitamin D, her neighbor may get adequate vitamins from sunshine and diet.  Blood tests can give you an idea of your blood level contents of various nutrients and vitamins and may clue you in to whether or not your body needs supplements.

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