Food, alone, isn't enough.
At Needed, we are on a mission to empower true nourishment through education that’s focused on well-researched fundamentals. To do so, we’ve partnered with our community of health and nutrition experts, to help us deliver insights from their practice and from the latest in nutrition research.
Today, we are fortunate to have registered dietitian and maternal mental health advocate Stephanie Greunke as a practitioner partner and guest contributor. Stephanie sheds light on why supplementation is often needed, even when we are doing our best to eat well.
The content on this page is provided for informational purposes only and reflects the thoughts and opinions of the persons providing the information and not Needed PBC. This information should not be construed in any way as providing medical advice. If you have a health concern, you should contact your own health care practitioner.
Finding nutritional gaps.
In an ideal world, you would be able to use local, organic, and seasonal fruits and vegetables, pasture-raised meat and wild-caught fish, legumes, lentils, nuts, and seeds to create a diet that meets (or exceeds) your daily nutritional requirements. However, in today’s modern world, food does not always deliver the nutrition that your body needs. While there are choices and changes that you can make to get the most out of your diet, nutritional gaps still exist. Luckily, you are able to address many of these needs through supplementation. But while there may be solutions, it is still important to examine why - at both the systems and individual levels - food, alone, isn’t enough.
Soil depletion and transportation.
An important factor to consider when determining whether supplementation is appropriate is soil quality. While that broccoli you picked up at the grocery store is a great option, there’s no doubt that it’s less concentrated in vitamins and minerals than it was decades ago when soil was more mineral-rich. In fact, a 2004 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, found that in 43 garden crops, mostly vegetables, there was a significant decline in 6 of the 13 nutrients that were analyzed between 1950-1999. These nutrients include protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This study wasn’t comprehensive as there are other minerals in the soil that are also depleted by today’s agriculture practices, such as magnesium.
This depletion leaves a substantial percentage of the population with magnesium deficiencies, which is a big deal considering magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body and is required for energy production, nerve function, protein synthesis, muscle contraction, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, and the synthesis of RNA and DNA. As it is such a common deficiency, many unknowingly compromise their mental and physical health. The good news is that supplementing with the right form of magnesium, such as magnesium glycinate, is an easy and affordable way to boost levels.
It’s clear that soil depletion is a concern and there’s another factor that influences the concentration of nutrients in your food: transportation. After being harvested, a plant will lose nutrients through a process called cellular respiration. This is the plant’s attempt at staying alive and they will naturally break down and release their own stored nutrients in order to do so. Each plant has its own respiration rate, but those with the fastest respiration rates include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, strawberries and spinach. In one study, cut broccoli florets had only 26% of the original amount of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) after 10 days.
What does this mean? It means that in order to get the most bang for your buck nutritionally, it’s best to purchase fruits and vegetables that are organic, seasonal, local, or even frozen as often as possible. Using guides that show you what produce is in season and looking at signs showing the location of where your fruits and vegetables are harvested from in the grocery store are strategies you can use to consume produce with the most nutrients.
Your body has a natural detoxification system that works around the clock to make sure you’re removing endotoxins (molecules made in your body as a byproduct of metabolism) and exotoxins (molecules coming from your environment such as what you’re breathing, eating, and putting on your skin). You’re constantly being exposed to different chemicals, but your body is uniquely designed to handle them. Your lungs, skin, digestive system, kidneys, and liver support detoxification through different mechanisms. This system works beautifully unless it’s overwhelmed by demands that exceed its capacity. In short, the toxic burden becomes too much.
While you can’t avoid toxins in the environment, you have an opportunity to reduce your toxic burden (also known as toxic load) and support your body’s natural detoxification system.
You can support your body’s natural detoxification system by using targeted nutrients from both food and supplements. Cruciferous vegetables, garlic, berries, and spices like turmeric help upregulate metabolic pathways to support detoxification and elimination. In some cases, therapeutic supplements such as NAC, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and glutathione can further support detoxification. It’s also important to use supplements that have been screened and tested for environmental contaminants. One example is using a high-quality, third-party-tested algae oil or fish oil that eliminates concerns over PCBs and heavy metals in fish, especially for individuals who are the most vulnerable, such as pregnant women and children.
Another way to reduce your toxic burden is by choosing cleaner products. Choosing more natural skincare and cleaning products, using high-quality air and water filters, and consuming organic foods and protein from healthy animals are a few things you can do every day to reduce your toxic burden and let your natural detoxification do what it’s designed to do.
The demands of a busy life.
Whether you’re navigating life as a new parent, working a full-time job, traveling, taking your kids to after school activities, or maybe a combination of these factors, it’s not always easy to consume whole foods and balanced meals multiple times a day. And let’s be honest, if you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and are underslept, your food choices will likely reflect that. After a long day at work or rough night of sleep, you’re probably not reaching for a kale salad with salmon.
Even when you’re able to consume a healthy diet, you may not be absorbing nutrients from the foods you’re eating. Stress negatively impacts your digestive tract, reducing the absorption of nutrients from your diet. If that wasn’t enough, your body actually requires more of certain nutrients (such as vitamin C, magnesium, and B-vitamins) when you’re stressed. Stress can also cause intestinal inflammation, requiring additional antioxidant support from fruits and vegetables and anti-inflammatory support from DHA/EPA.
Supplements can help fill the gaps during busy seasons of life, by offering therapeutic doses of nutrients that are often missing in the diet due to increased demands or lack of time.
Periods of increased nutrient demands.
There are certain periods of life when nutrient needs are in high demand, making it hard to get everything you need from food. Pregnancy and lactation are two examples of when nutrient needs are elevated, but intake of nutrient-dense food may not meet the increased demand. This could be due to nausea, or food aversions, or even lack of time due to taking care of a new baby.
According to NHANES data from 2003-2006, micronutrient deficiencies are common in women 19-50 years old, including pregnant and breastfeeding women. This means that the foods consumed not only have to meet the increased nutrient demands, but also replete nutrient deficiencies. During pregnancy and lactation, it’s important that mom is not only consuming sufficient amounts of nutrients like DHA/EPA, iron, B12, and zinc to support her baby’s growth and development, but also to ensure her nutrient stores don’t become depleted.
Surgery also increases nutrient demand, so moms who undergo cesarean sections or have perineal tearing need to support the body’s demand for nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, and EPA/DHA to heal surgical wounds and regulate inflammation.
During periods of your life, you may eliminate certain food groups for personal preferences (such as vegetarians/vegans) or because of food allergies/intolerances (such as gluten, dairy, and soy). Eliminating certain food groups requires a more thoughtful approach and often targeted supplementation in order to meet dietary requirements, such as iron and B12 in vegans/vegetarians.
At certain times of the year, you’re not exposed to much sunlight, and you need to thoughtfully consider supplementation. Dietary sources only account for about 10% of vitamin D intake, so sun exposure and supplementation are required to fill that gap for most individuals.
Where to go from here.
Here’s the deal: you are likely to have gaps in your diet due to individual and systems-level considerations. In order to thrive, you need to be thoughtful about how to supplement for those gaps. Needed provides solutions to supplement your diet using science and nature as guides.
The intent of this post is not to add more fear or stress to your life, but instead to help you understand that you really do need to consider supportive supplementation, even if you consider yourself to be a pretty healthy eater. You are doing your best with the demands of daily life and the reality of the food environment.
Giving yourself grace as you navigate nutrition is needed.
trusted education is needed.