There are a couple of supplements that you will want to take depending on your situation. But for the most part, they are useless or even dangerous.
We suggest that everyone, regardless of their style of eating, take a B12 supplement. Humans (like all mammals) can make B12. But it requires a specific type of bacteria found in dirty water and soil. Since we live in a very clean world where we wash our fruits and veggies and drink clean water (both good things), we don’t get that bacteria. People who eat meat might get the B12 the animal made. But since many meat animals are no longer eating the grass and bugs they naturally would, they aren’t getting the bacteria to make that much B12 either.
We take a 500mg, quick dissolve tablet of Methylcobalamin B12 twice a week. Our bloodwork has shown our B12 levels to be great.
Vitamin D isn’t actually a vitamin. It is the precursor to a hormone your body makes called calcitriol. Many people believe there is Vitamin D in milk. But milk is supplemented with it (as is orange juice and all kinds of other processed foods). Mushrooms, if they are exposed to sunlight, are one of the few plant-based places to get vitamin D. But it is extremely unlikely any of us are going to be eating enough mushrooms to get the vitamin D we need.
Humans make vitamin D from the sun. Being outside with your arms and legs exposed for 10-20 minutes (the fairer your skin the less time you need) three or four times a week will give you plenty of Vitamin D. Absolutely do NOT get burned!
But since we live in a place where being outside with our skin exposed isn’t a viable option for several months of the year, we take 125mcg (5000IU) of vitamin D three times a week from October to March (sometimes into April if spring is a long time coming). Because we bike ride in the warmer months and have the opportunity to be outside during the day, we make enough Vitamin D to not supplement the other months of the year.
If you work in an office, are never outside with your skin exposed or always wear sunscreen, you should consider supplementing year-round. Additionally, as humans age, we become less efficient at turning sunshine into vitamin D. 75% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Exactly how much vitamin D you need is going to depend on your genetics, your body size, your diet, your age, how much time you spend in the sun and the time of year. A simple blood test and conversation with your doctor will let you know where your levels are and if supplementing is a good idea for you.
Oddly, eating animal products increases the excretion rate of calcium as your body uses it to offset the acidity created by animal protein (which means getting your calcium from an animal protein source like milk or cheese is counter productive). Since eating plant-based is lower in animal protein (or none at all) and higher in plants that contain calcium (like leafy greens, broccoli, beans, prunes, almonds and chia seeds), your need to take an additional supplement is unlikely.
Additionally, taking a calcium supplement has shown an increased risk of heart attack due to the spike of calcium in the blood (it absorbs more slowly from food) and is not related to lower hip fractures (Remember that exercise, particularly weight bearing, is directly related to bone health. Email us at Health@RnRJourney.com to schedule a consult with Russ to develop a workout plan customized to your needs.
There is no international agreement on how much dietary calcium we need. But the body is smart about absorbing it from plants when it needs it and not when it doesn’t. Eating a variety of plant-foods with calcium in them, will meet your dietary calcium needs.
That said, if you are on a medication that actively drains calcium from your body and/or your doctor has determined that the benefits of taking a supplement outweigh the risks for you, don’t stop taking it!
Supplements in General
Supplement companies look at plants, try to figure out what about them is good for us, strip it out, put it in a pill, patent it, and then make ridiculous amounts of money by convincing us we need their pill to be healthy. Why don’t they just tell us the plant they got from? Because they can’t patent that and make money from it.
The problem with this is threefold:
One – supplements are only the parts of the plant that could be identified. When you eat an apple, you get multiple times the benefit from the vitamins and nutrients combined in it than you would if you took the identifiable bits in supplement form.
Two – those identifiable bits don’t end up in a pill or capsule by magic. There is a chemical process to extract them. The supplement companies will tell you their process is safe. But they are self-regulated so… Hopefully they are.
Three – Health supplements are not regulated in any way. Too often what they claim is in a supplement isn’t or it isn’t even close to what it says on the package. It might be just as beneficial for you to stick your money in an envelope and mail it to the supplement companies for nothing in return.
Full disclosure – we use to take A LOT of supplements thinking, “what could it hurt?” But the more we learned the more we realized we could get everything our bodies needed just by eating plants. Boy do we wish we could have all the money back that we spent on supplements over the years. Since we started eating this way and stopped taking them, we feel better than ever.
Give it a try. You just might too.
Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.