The Scoop on Supplements

If there is one thing that I find myself down the rabbit hole on most often, it’s dietary supplements. Through my training as a certified health coach, working with clients, and mentoring by some of the best nutritionists in New England, I’ve learned that dietary and herbal supplements are one of the most misunderstood aspects of health and wellness.

Some people think you don’t need supplements if you eat well. Some people think that all supplements are created equal and they can just buy whatever generic brand at the store. Some people think the more supplements you take the better. Some people think supplements are only for kids and sick people. None of these are totally accurate.

There are a number of reasons for this lack of clarity. First and foremost, supplements are largely based on a strategy of prevention whereas our health care system is based on treatment. Really, it’s not a health care system, it’s a disease treatment system. With this systemic focus, prevention is not going to get its due diligence because it doesn’t fit the paradigm and is not as profitable (though, it is, indeed, a very profitable market).

Since the system is built for them, drug manufacturers have the money and the power in the market. Using this influence, they can control the flow of information, the research focus, etc. Simply put, they are bigger and more powerful so they get the attention.

The structure of the supplement industry itself is not helpful for disseminating useful information to consumers. It is largely unregulated by the government and rapidly expanding, which means two things:

1. You need to do your due diligence as a consumer to make sure you are purchasing a quality product but that information is going to be very difficult for you to find because there are limited disclosure rules.

2. Supplement manufacturers are not allowed to make claims about what supplements do without substantiated scientific evidence. In an industry where the money is concentrated in the hands of pharmaceutical companies, it’s difficult for supplement makers to fund clinical studies so these supplements makers are left with the ability to only make very vague claims about the support they can offer your body.

On top of that, it seems like there is a new supplement out every week with claims about “amazing weight loss” or “body transformations” or “anti-aging.” The industry is expanding so quickly, it’s almost impossible for someone to keep up with. Because of this, I spend a lot of time researching a new product someone has heard of so I can recommend whether it’s worth trying or not (mostly, it’s not). (Pro tip: if it’s offering a quick fix, it is too good to be true. Likewise, be very wary of before and after photos and overly enthusiastic voice-overs.)

My main concern when it comes to dietary and herbal supplements is making sure that my clients are not only getting a safe product but also one that is what it purports to be. A majority of supplement companies claim the backing of scientific studies, but when you request that information a number of things may happen: said study doesn’t exist, the product itself was not studied but the ingredient it purports to contain was, they’ve paid a third party to conduct the study thereby influencing the findings, or the study was never done on human subjects.

Recently, an investigation by the New York State Attorney General found that just 21% of the supplements they tested from GNC, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target actually contained the ingredients they claimed to contain. Contamination and adulteration are also common issues with dietary supplements. The FDA is supposed to inspect supplement manufacturing facilities, but only gets around to a very small number of them – less than 20%. Given these facts, being able to review the studies that prove the supplements are what they say they are is crucial.

Knowing that doing product research can be a herculean task for people balancing work, family, chores, errands, volunteer responsibilities, and more, I made it a priority of mine to weed through the product claims and find a high-quality supplement company that I trust and can recommend to my clients. After months (literally) of research, I came to Shaklee. They have 20 years of clinical research on their products and you can actually access and read those studies online. They test their raw materials prior to production for purity and identity and they test their final products for purity and effectiveness. They will not put a product out there without science verifying its effectiveness. Furthermore, they have been in business since 1956 and have never issued a recall. Because of this, Shaklee is what I trust for me and my family and what I recommend to my clients as well.

If you want to learn more about dietary supplements – the industry, what to look out for, what to know, should you be taking them – then join me on Thursday, June 22nd for a free online event discussing the what, why, and how of supplements.

Baked Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa

This recipe is so quick and easy but packed full of zesty, refreshing flavor. It makes a great summer dinner and you could also cook the fish on the grill wrapped in foil instead of baking it.

If you’re not a huge fan of fish, I really recommend that you give this recipe a try. Cod is a very light-flavored fish and the combo of the spicy fish seasoning and the sweet, tangy salsa is really delightful. Plus, this is such a ridiculously easy recipe, you have nothing to lose!

As a certified health coach, I am constantly urging people to eat more fish or, at the very least, take a fish oil supplement. When we think of fish, we typically think of the Omega-3 fatty acids found in them. However, there are a number of other important health benefits to consuming fish.

Health Benefits of Cod

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and certain plant sources, are critical for a number of important health benefits, such as heart health, depression, and brain health to name just a few. Admittedly, cod is not the greatest source of Omega-3’s compared to other species of fish, like salmon. However, it does contain about 8% of your daily value of these critical fatty acids.

Beyond that, cod is very high in Vitamin B12 which is a key nutrient for cardiovascular health, DNA production, metabolism, and brain and nervous system health. B vitamins are a set of vitamins that need other vitamins present in order to be properly absorbed, so getting your B12 through a food source is the best way to ensure proper absorption. (Second best would be a B complex supplement rather than an isolated B vitamin supplement.)

Finally, cod is also a great source of lean protein in your diet.

Choosing Your Fish

When it comes to purchasing fish, the fresher the better, as is the case with pretty much all food. However, a large and increasing amount of fish on the market is farmed rather than wild caught. I strongly recommend that, as often as you possibly can, you buy wild caught fish.

Wild caught fish are more nutritious than farmed fish because they are able to consume more nutritious food sources, such as the phytoplankton that contains Omega-3s. You are also getting better quality meat from a fish that swam around in the vast ocean than a fish that was confined to a small pen and is, therefore, fattier. Farmed fish are often given antibiotics and treated with pesticides and have been found to have higher levels of toxic PCBs in their bodies. There are also many ethical considerations to be made when it comes to farmed fish.

Bottom line: wild caught > farmed.

OK that’s enough education. Let’s get to the recipe, shall we?

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Spicy Mango Salsa

Ingredients

  • 1/4 of a large red onion, finely diced
  • 1/8 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 jalapeño, deveined, deseeded, and diced
  • 2 cups mango, finely diced (I used frozen but fresh works as well as long as it’s ripe)
  • 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 lb wild caught cod
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • Organic corn tortillas

For the Salsa

  • Combine the onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, cilantro, and mango in a large bowl. Pour the lime juice over it and mix to ensure all the ingredients are combined and coated with the lime juice.
  • Cover and place the salsa in the refrigerator while you prepare the fish. The acid in the lime juice will macerate the ingredients and help combine the flavors.

For the Cod

  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place the cod on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with the Old Bay seasoning until it’s coated.
  • Bake about 20 minutes until the fish flakes with a fork.

Serve the cod on the corn tortillas topped with the salsa and garnished with sliced avocado and fresh lettuce.

Serves 2 people 2-3 tacos each.

That’s it! Ridiculously easy, right?

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Fish tacos with mango salsa