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how i pick my vitamins and supplements

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Ever since I told you guys that I make my own vitamin packs, I’ve been getting a ton of requests for a post about supplements and vitamins.

The truth is, I was (and still am) very hesitant to share specific information because, first of all, I have absolutely NO training in this area. People go through years and years of training to prescribe supplements and my training amounts to a handful of hours spent in the classroom known as Google. Even though you can buy supplements over-the-counter, I think they should be treated like regular ole drugs. They can interact with allergies, prescription medicine and each other. You can overdose on them. Your kids can get sick off of them. Don’t chance it. I think Western Medicine has given us this false sense of security about vitamins and supplements. We’ve been taught that supplements are kiddie medicine that can be treated and taken with reckless abandon (because, after all, it isn’t really medicine, or so they’ve led us to think). I don’t believe that, and if you plan on starting a vitamin or supplement regimen, neither should you. Are taking natural supplements less dangerous than taking pharmaceuticals? Absolutely. But they still deserve respect and education.

Secondly, supplementing is deeply personal and what works for me probably won’t work for you. Even beyond that, what works for me might actually harm you or make you feel worse. I definitely don’t want anyone taking what I’m taking just because I’m taking it. That’s why this post definitely will not include a full run-down of my supplements. Sorry if that’s what you came for, but I just don’t feel comfortable sharing it.

So why am I writing this post? Well, I figured I could at least share with you how I got my recommendations. And some basics for developing your own supplementation plan.

Consult a Doctor

I know, it’s a pain, but you really need to consult a doctor before starting a supplement plan. Especially if you have any current medical issues, are on any medications currently, are pregnant or breastfeeding. Honestly, I think pretty much everyone should just ask. You don’t necessarily need to run every single supplement you are thinking of taking by a physician, but you at least need to ask if they are any supplements out there that they’d recommend you don’t take. You might even get a list of ones they recommend you do take—like my doctor, who wanted me on Folic Acid regimen because I’m of child-bearing age (it helps prevent spina bifida before you even know you’re pregnant). If you are feeling particularly thorough, a visit with a naturopath, homeopathic doctor or holistic health professional can get you pretty much all the info you need in one hour session.

Find a Good Multivitamin

Ideally, you’d get every single vitamin and mineral you need from your food, but the truth is, that is nearly impossible (especially if you are on a restrictive diet of any type). For example, even though I eat a clean, whole-foods, hefty diet, I am consistently low on magnesium. It just…happens.

So to me, the basis of any supplementation routine is a good (great, even) multivitamin. You want something to fill in the gaps of your diet. I did a lot of research and landed on an organic, all natural, vegan, whole food vitamin. A lot of the multivitamins on the market are made by slamming together a bunch of chemical compounds in a lab, but the one I take is made from real food, and that makes me feel better. It does mean that I have to take four capsules a day (whereas the chemically ones are usually one-a-day) but to me, it’s worth it. Women of child-bearing age, make sure your multi-vitamin was a good amount of Folic Acid (again, spina bifida prevention) and Iron (to help replace iron lost during mensuration). If you are at risk for osteoporosis, either find a multivitamin with good levels of Vitamin D and Calcium, or supplement that with another vitamin (which is what I do).

Another reason to buy real-food multivitamins? No nausea. The chemical compounds in standard multivitamins make me instantaneously nauseous. I’ve never had that issue with real-food vitamins.

Identify Other Issues

Now that your baseline vitamins and minerals are taken care of, it’s time to bring the spotlight onto some of your other health concerns and issues. There are two ways to do this. The first (and easiest) is to take a vitamin assessment test online. These are simple questionnaires that figure out what issues you have and how to help them with supplementation. There are quite a few options, but I really like Dr. Andrew Weil’s version (I’m a Weil fan, period!). He sells his own vitamin sets (with the proceeds going to a charity) but you can get his recommendations and dosages without buying a thing. Totally free. It’s worth 10 minutes.

If you aren’t keen on relinquishing control, you can go old school and do the research yourself. First step is to make a list of what health issues, concerns, or history you have. For example, my list looks a little something like this:

  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Light-to-moderate PMS symptoms
  • Anemic
  • Migraine headaches
  • Frequent colds

Next, take one of those and start Googling! Some of the formulas I use to get results:

  • ” [name of ailment] herbal remedies”
  • ” [name of ailment] vitamin prevention”
  • ” [name of ailment] supplement”

And then read. Read pages and pages. From all different sources. Read from Western and Eastern medicine sources. Read from well-known sources (WebMD and Mayo Clinic, for example). Read person experiences. If you find quite a few sources recommending the same thing, make a note of it. For example, if you search about migraine headaches, you’ll find a lot of sources noting that Magnesium and Fish Oil are both thought to lessen the number of headaches. I take both of those! Make sure you read about how much to take of each item, too. 500mg is a whole lot different from 5,000.

Find Good Quality Supplements

Now that you know what to take (and how much) it’s time to find your supplements. Of course, you could just hit up your local drug store and buy the off-the-shelf brand, but just like with a multivitamin, I’d rather be taking something everyday that is natural, organic and (mostly) food-based. I use Amazon almost exclusively to buy vitamins and supplements. There is a wide variety of brands and types and a lot of reviews. Read. The. Reviews. You’ll learn a lot from the reviews. For example, some companies put artificial coloring in their vitamins. Yuck!

Assess and Adjust

Once you’ve started taking your supplements, and have been taking them consistently for a few months, it’s time to assess what’s working and what isn’t and make changes if necessary. One of the most common questions is, “Do supplements work?”.  The truth is, it’s hard to tell. Sure, I can tell you a concrete answer for specific ailments (as in, yes, I do have fewer headaches when I’m consistently taking my magnesium supplements), but as far as general health? I see it as more of an insurance policy. I only know it’s working when stuff isn’t happening. I don’t have cancer. I haven’t had a stroke. I’m not having trouble sleeping. Is this a scientific method for determining effectiveness? Absolutely not. But it is enough for me to keep on keepin’ on. If nothing else, the peace of mind is worth it for me.

Do you take supplements or vitamins?


Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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