Start Making Changes Today

In recognition of March being Nutrition Month, make today the day you start paying closer attention to the foods you put in your mouth. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the importance of quality nutrition and exercise. Your long-term health (both mentally and physically) is a direct result of commitment in those two areas, many doctors say. And even though there are no guarantees you’ll live a long healthy life despite your best efforts in the kitchen and at the gym, the fact is your life while living will be that much more rewarding. Boundless energy, mental clarity, and on and on, they say, and I totally agree.
But too many people think they can shortchange themselves in the diet and exercise departments because they`re taking a pill box full of supplements to compensate. You aren`t likely a grandma yet, so don`t pop pills like one unless a medical condition requires you to do so. 
The OTC supplement industry has preyed on peoples’ insecurities, preaching the importance of this supplement or that for a variety of health barometers. It’s big business. But don`t let supplements give you a false sense of security. Only regular check-ups and bloodwork will tell the whole story.

And, in fact, a boatload of vitamins from a multivitamin are digested far more rapidly than they are from natural food sources, which can put undo stress on your kidneys to filter them out. Ever had a bright yellow pee after taking one? You’re pissing a lot of your money down the drain. 
What I’d suggest is punching your average daily diet into or a comparable calorie tracker, and determining your insufficiencies from there. It’ll break down your vitamin intake percentages in relation to the recommended daily value.

If your omega 6/3 ratio is heavily skewed to 6, then supplementing with a high quality fish oil is in your best interests. Nowadays, health experts advocate for a balanced ratio between 6 and 3, which is difficult to achieve with North American dietary choices heavily favouring 6.
Or take vitamin D in the winter if you drive to and from work in darkness (Hi, Winnipeg), but remember that none of these supplements are entirely without risks. Too much vitamin D can cause elevated calcium levels in the blood (hypercalcemia), and calcification of soft plaque on the arteries is the main cause of heart disease. This is one reason to avoid excessive supplemental calcium. Choose to get calcium from food sources (almond milk, nuts, veggies), and don’t pop vitamin D like candy. 4,000IU a day is plenty to see the benefits you seek.
If you focus on a balanced diet, you can get most of the essential vitamins the natural way without the risks. A recent study even suggests antioxidant intake in pill form, from Vitamin C for example, can disrupt the natural inflammation response of exercise. In human and animal studies, antioxidants suppress the natural upregulation of cellular antioxidant enzymes in response to training (1). Further still, vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, which can be harmful for those at risk of heart disease. I.E. taking a gram of vitamin C with that liver and onions last night may not be a good idea if your Red Blood Cell count is dangerously higher than the norm to begin with. I’d rather you added vitamin C dense foods to your daily regime (kiwi is the best surprisingly, but oranges and strawberries work too).

The take home message is this: Focus on a balanced diet first and foremost, and fill in the gaps with nutritional supplements later. I’ve advocated for many herbal supplements in this very space before, and there’s plenty of medically-backed research behind their effectiveness. But use a program like NutritionData to see what you are eating first and foremost, make adjustments through the foods you eat, and then and only then, supplement accordingly.

Here’s to a healthy month and beyond! 

1. Ristow M, Zarse K, Oberbach A, Kloting N, Birringer M, Kiehntopf M, et al. Antioxidants prevent health-promoting effects of physical exercise in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2009;106:8665-70.


Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.