Disclaimer: Portions of this article will appear in the February 2021 edition of The Burg
With a frenzy still in place due to COVID-19 and now with the flu season upon us, everyone is rushing out to get supplements in an effort to stay healthy. But should we?
Pop quiz! Should we be buying supplements and vitamins or should we be focusing on eating healthier? The correct answer is that we should be focusing on eating healthier, first and foremost. That is, we should be getting nutrients from their original sources. That’s not to say that we don’t need a supplement here and there. But, solely relying on supplements to keep us healthy is not enough. We must eat a healthier diet and I am not referring to cutting down on fat and carbs. While, that’s a nice idea, cutting fat out and reducing carbs is not necessarily going to shield you from COVID-19, the flu, or boost your immune system. So, what should you do?
We need to focus on getting nutrients from their natural (original) sources. What do I mean by that? I mean that when your provider tells you to increase your calcium, you need to eat and drink things like milk, cheese, and yogurt. It does NOT mean to drink orange juice that says it has calcium. Why? Because that is not naturally occurring! I often want to say things like, “Get your nutrients from food sources” however, many things nowadays are fortified, and while some fortification is okay (like folic acid and iodine, for example) it’s really best to get things that naturally occur in food.
If you ever get confused about which foods have calcium naturally occurring, just ask yourself, “Can this food produce milk on its own?” For example, cheese is made with milk, and milk comes from cows. Cows have nipples and therefore, can produce milk. Oranges do not have nipples, and therefore, cannot naturally produce adequate amounts of calcium.
If you are being told to increase iron, you should eat red meat (although, keep the red meat to a minimum), chicken, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, or dried apricots (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). If you need B12, eat clams, sardines, beef, tuna, salmon, or milk and dairy products (Semeco, 2020).
With COVID-19 still hanging around, we really should increase our zinc intake. This is because findings suggest that zinc could provide protection by supporting anti-viral immunity and reducing inflammation (Bird, 2020). There are also several studies looking at how zinc can improve the severity of Covid-19 or prevent it (Hunter et al., 2020).
You can increase your zinc by eating oysters, beef, crab, pork, chicken, baked beans, and pumpkin seeds (National Institute of Health). That is not to say that taking a zinc supplement is bad. In fact, if you are going to be around a group of people, or going out somewhere in public for an extended amount of time (meaning you aren’t just running errands), then I think it’s a great idea to pop a zinc pill. Likewise, if you come down with COVID-19, your provider may very well prescribe a zinc supplement. The key is moderation and not taking or eating excessive amounts! Always talk with your provider before starting a new supplement, please!
My overall point here is that we should not solely rely on taking a pill and ignore our diet. We should first adjust our diets according to our needs and then see if we need an additional supplement as a boost.
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Bird, E. July 16, 2020. Could zinc protect against COVID-19? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/zinc-may-have-protective-effects-against-covid-19
Hunter, J., Yang, G., Goldenberg, J., Beardsley, J., Myers, S. P., Mertz, D., & Leeder, S. (2020). Zinc for the prevention and treatment of SARS-CoV-2 and other acute viral respiratory infections: A rapid review. Advances in Integrative Medicine, 7, 252-260. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aimed.2020.07.009
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Iron deficiency anemia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034
National Institute of Health. (n.d.). Zinc. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Oysters%20contain%20more%20zinc%20per,products%20%5B2%2C11%5D.
Semeco, A. 2020. Top 12 foods that are high in vitamin B12. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-foods