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The Basics on Nutritional Supplements and Vitamins

By Catalina Margulis

Given the on-the-go nature of modern life, it can be hard to get all the nutrients you need in your daily diet. One way to change that is by consuming vitamins and supplements to boost your health. But for the uninitiated, a visit to a nutritional supplements store can be confusing, with hundreds of different products to choose from. We asked Aaron Labarre, national operations executive for Popeye’s Supplements, to break down the top supplements and vitamins you should know about. Once you’ve determined which are best for you, head to a Popeye’s location in Alberta, where AMA members save 10% on nutrition products and gear.

BRING ON THE PROTEIN
According to Labarre, the biggest category of supplements is protein powders, and for good reason. “The average person falls short in terms of the protein that they should be getting,” he says—which is a problem, since protein is vital to building, maintaining and repairing your muscles, bones and organs. To easily increase your intake, Labarre suggests drinking a protein shake with your morning carb-based cereal.

IT’S EASY BEING GREEN
“We know that most people don’t get enough vegetables in their diet, and vegetables today also contain fewer nutrients than they did 50 years ago,” Labarre says. “A greens supplement takes all the nutrients from the vegetables’ cell walls and dehydrates them, so with one scoop you’re getting the equivalent of six to eight full-size salads made with sixty different fruits and vegetables.”

Labarre says he’s seen how taking a greens supplement can help stave off colds, and recommends them especially to elementary school teachers and others who may be exposed to viruses during their workday. “I have customers who’ve been on a greens supplement for eight or nine years, and who have not gotten sick since they started taking it,” he says. While the flavour of greens supplements used to be a point of contention, Labarre points out that the new supplements actually taste good. “The technology’s really come a long way,” he says.

MULTIVITAMINS ARE STILL KING
While greens supplements contain a lot of the nutrients we may not consistently get from food, Labarre says their use is more geared toward immune health. Multivitamins are more of an overall aid—helping to ensure you get the recommended daily dose of minerals and different forms of vitamins.

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“Today you can find multivitamins that help with a variety of things—to help manage stress, for example, or to promote better-quality sleep,” Labarre says. For the latter, he recommends looking for a multivitamin with B6, particularly a form called P-5-P. “If a person is having a hard time falling asleep, instead of taking sleeping pills, they can take this to help the body relax and sleep better.”

Labarre also recommends capsulated vitamins over tablets. “Our bodies break down the capsule quicker, and we can absorb it all, while those big tablets might not get absorbed in the right part of the intestinal tract,” he says.

GO FISH
Labarre says fish oil is recommended to just about everyone to promote cellular health, and adds that it’s also good for joint health, cognitive function, energy and weight loss.

“When I was growing up, people took cod liver oil, which tasted terrible,” he says. Another problem: Since cod are fairly large fish, they can have higher mercury content. So nowadays Labarre suggests going with small-fish sources, to decrease the chance of mercury contamination.

Taking fish oil is better than vegetable oil if your goal is to increase your intake of the EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 fatty acids. “Our bodies are just not that efficient at converting vegetable fats into EPA and DHA,” he says. “You’d have to drink a whole bottle of vegetable fat to get the same amount of DHA and EPA as you would from a tablespoon or a couple of capsules of fish oil.”

GO PRO(BIOTIC)
Probiotics help the good bacteria in your gut to increase their numbers, in order to help suppress less desirable bacteria. “They can help with digesting food, and going to the washroom properly. They can also help with issues like ulcerative colitis,” Labarre says.

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He particularly recommends taking probiotics if you’ve been ill and had to take antibiotics. “It can take up to two years for your body to get back to normal,” he says. “Your immune system is weaker. You’re not getting nutrients from food the same way.” Following a round of antibiotics, which don’t discriminate when it comes to killing bacteria in your body, taking a high-dose probiotic for two to three weeks can help rebuild your good-bacteria levels.

When you do purchase a probiotic, Labarre advises looking for a human strain: “A lot of people don’t realize probiotics can come from vegetables. Human strains can survive inside the body, whereas some of the vegetable strains, the body uses what it needs at the moment and the rest just goes in the toilet.”

VEGAN LOVE
“It can be very hard for vegans and vegetarians to get protein in their diet,” Labarre says. “So for them, the most popular products are protein powders or meal replacements that are 100 percent vegan and vegetarian.

“Both contain protein, but a full meal replacement will also have calories from healthy fats and carbohydrates, whereas a protein shake by itself may not have any carbs or fats, which means you may feel hungry an hour later.” Labarre notes that vegan protein shakes used to be hard to make and had a chalky mouthfeel, but now they’re as good as whey-based protein shakes.

HOW TO SAVE
AMA members save 10% on nutrition products and gear at Popeye’s Supplements locations across Alberta.