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Do I Need Vitamins and When Should I Take Them?

on December 30, 2011 | In: News, Nutritional Approach | 10 Comments

Hello, Nell,
I take vitamins but don’t always  follow the directions, such as “take two pills, three times a day”.   I tend to just take all my vitamins at night. Vitamins and supplements cost a lot and I just want to get all the bang for the buck I can, not to mention the benefit I hope they are giving my body.   What is the best time to take vitamins and do I actually need to be taking them?
Thank you,

Thank you for this question, Tonya!  We are certainly led to believe that we need vitamins and supplements, and for some, the thinking is the more the better.  Take a peek down the vitamin aisle at my favorite store for food, Whole Foods, and you’ll see thousands of pills, tablets and powders all indicated for one health benefit or another.

Certainly, there are many gains to be made by taking certain herbs, tinctures or other natural remedies for specific ailments, but those should be closely monitored by your naturopath, doctor or whomever is providing your care for whatever it was you sought treatment for in the first place.

As a whole, however, I am not a proponent of most people taking heaps of supplements and vitamins in place of simply adhering to the Paleo diet.  If one does so, the chances of having any vitamins or minerals lacking in the diet, generally speaking are far less than if one eats according to the good old “My Plate” theory.

Of course, there are situations which warrant a different approach, particularly if one does not follow the Paleo diet.

One example of ambient conditions creating a need for supplementation would be people living in areas with little sunlight might need to first be tested for their Vitamin D levels and then perhaps supplement.  I observed this first hand when I lived in Seattle for three years and many of my friends and colleagues found that they, indeed, had low Vitamin D levels.   They were also not Paleo.  I was already Paleo then, and got outside plenty to train and guess what?  My Vitamin D levels were normal.

Another factor which is actually addressed in Dr. Cordain’s second book, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, is that in modern times, we are exposed to many unhealthy conditions in the atmosphere that our ancestors did not have to live with, such as exhaust fumes, a depleted ozone layer and second hand cigarette smoke. As such, taking an anti-oxidant supplement, as long as it’s food-based and does not contain fillers, would not be a bad idea.

Finally, given that most people do not likely get enough good fat in their diet, a fish oil supplement, rich in Omega 3s will help balance out the delicate ratio of the inflammatory Omega 6s we get when we eat things like nuts.

However, do keep in mind that vitamins and supplements should be considered extraneous.  As in, no, you cannot eat french fries, cheese nachos and soft drinks and then take a vitamin pill and pretend all is well and good.

The bottom line?  I recommend taking fish oil and perhaps an antioxidant supplement.  Most people can do so safely and without risk of toxic levels of anything building up.   Take them with food and be done with it.  If you do drink black coffee, don’t do so around the time you take these supplements as the caffeine will indeed block the absorption of some.

To summarize:  Stay Paleo and you won’t need vitamins!


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  • Kate December 30, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Great article. I was curious about your daily supplementation. Do you only take an antioxidant and fish oils? How many grams of fish oils do you take?

    • admin December 30, 2011 at 8:34 pm

      I do take fish oil. My preferred brand is Nordic Naturals. I take their Ultimate Omega, which has 1280 mg total Omega 3’s per two tablet serving.

  • Chuck December 30, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Hi Nell!

    I eat a paleo diet, but due to some Eating disorder and endurance exercise factors, and pretty anemic. How can I increase my red blood cells/iron levels? My doctor suggested an iron supplement which is harmless enough, but I’d like to solve this naturally as well. Do you have any tips or suggestions?


    How many grams of fish oil do you recommend a day?

    • admin December 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm

      Yes, I do have a suggestion. I always recommend getting all your vitamin and mineral needs met as much as possible by food. I would suggest incorporating more heme iron (as in, from flesh) vs. non-heme (as in from plants) and eating iron-rich foods with a vitamin C source (like bell peppers or citrus fruit) to quadruple the amount of iron you will absorb. Also be sure not to drink caffeine too close to them time when you eat your iron and C as it will interfere with proper absorption. A great example would be a rare grass fed filet with some sauteed spinach and sliced red bell pepper.

      As far as fish oil, I take Nordic Natural’s Ultimate Omega which has 1280 mg Total Omega 3s.

  • Steph December 31, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    You mentioned you take a fish oil supplement. I have heard that krill oil is a much better choice. Do you have any advice on this?

    • admin January 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm

      The issue with krill oil instead of the fish oil supplement I take is that Krill oil is very low in DHA, the most important of the Omega 3 fats, and tends to be more highly contaminated than fish oil. I like the brand I mentioned before, Nordic Naturals, because it’s got the lowest levels of toxicity of any other product, is Molecularly distilled, third party tested and is a really premium product.

  • Doug Layne January 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Nell. I love your new website. In your blog you mention taking an anti-oxidant supplement. What brand and product do you use or would suggest for an anti-oxidant supplement?

    Also, what is the difference between omega 3 from flax seed oil verses omega 3 from fish oil? Are they comparable?

    • admin January 2, 2012 at 7:04 pm

      I like a Raw Food-based Antioxidant. No soy, gluten (or any grain), dairy or any junk at all. As far as the Omega 3’s found in flax vs fish, flaxseed lacks the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which have shown cardiovascular benefits in past studies. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel and fish oil supplements.

  • beth January 2, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Hi Nell,
    I am surprised you use the Raw Garden of Life Antoxident, I have read in previous posts that yeast is not part of the Paleo diet and this product is cultured in Saccharomyces Cervisiae (bakers yeast), and
    also contains Saccharomyces Boulardi which is also a yeast but marketed as a probiotic. Most of the
    Garden of Life products contain Saccharamyces Cervisiae.

    • admin January 3, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Pardon me, you’re right, I referenced the wrong brand! I will repost when I find the name of the brand I meant to refer to. I don’t use it myself as I don’t feel it’s necessary as my paleo diet is so varied and plentiful…

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