As regular Nerd Herders may know, I spent the better part of 2013 collaborating with Tony Horton on his new self help book, The Big Picture: 11 Laws That Will Change Your Life.
I’ve worked with Tony for years, writing collateral and creating nutrition plans for his programs, including his P90X series, but this was different. We spent some serious one-on-one time together, so much so that he almost had my name embroidered on the back of the overstuffed chair in his living room where I would set-up camp in when I was there writing.
Obviously, Tony is well-established as a fitness expert. With this book, his goal was to up the ante, helping people not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. He did this by rebooting his 11 Laws of Fitness to function in a much broader context. My job was to help him parse through his knowledge.
It was a hell of an experience. From day one, Tony was willing to bare his soul in hopes of giving the best possible advice, sometimes admitting tough facts about his life (especially his childhood) that most people reserve for the therapist’s couch.
Other times, he’d get on a roll, just being Tony and cracking me up to the point of tears–and suddenly we’d both realize that his monologue actually contained incredible wisdom. Case in point, the legendary “F-16 Story,” an absurd, bodily-function-packed adventure about the time he achieved 8.8 g’s in a fighter plane. While he initially told me the story in a fit of sleep-deprived goofiness, we quickly saw the lesson in it, crafting it into an empathetic treatise on how, when you live life to the fullest, sometimes you push yourself too hard–and that’s okay.
The folks at Harper Wave (the publishers) were cool enough to let me run an excerpt from the book here on the (Real) Nutrition Nerd. Initially, I wanted to run the F-16 Story, but then I changed my mind because it’s damn funny, so I want you to buy the damn book–which comes out today, dammit–and read it that way instead.
Instead, I picked a nutrition excerpt, given this is a nutrition blog and all. (Don’t worry. There are still funny bits below.) It’s a rundown of four supplements Tony thinks are especially important, with back up from his go-to dietitian, Heather Fitzgerald.
Supplementation 101: Four Supplements That Everyone Should Consider
While working with an expert like Heather Fitzgerald is the best way to make sure you’re popping the right supplements, there are a few sups out there that everyone should consider. Here’s a good list to get you started.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
“If I had to choose one supplement for every person that comes in the office, it would be fish oil,” Heather insists. Your body is pretty good at converting dietary fat into whatever other kind of fat it needs, but there are a couple kinds of fat that the body can’t make itself, so you need to eat them. We call these “essential fatty acids” and there are two kinds: omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these fats do all kinds of things in your body, such as regulating your immune system and your cardiovascular system. Omega-3s can also function as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
You can’t throw a stick without hitting omega-6s in the American diet, so you probably don’t need to worry about them. You’ll find them in nuts, peanuts, corn, and most vegetable oils. Omega-3s, on the other hand, are tough to come by. “They’re virtually absent in our diets,” says Heather.
You’ll find a little in seed oils—particularly flaxseed and chia seeds, making those things very important in any vegan’s diet—but the most absorbable forms of omega-3s come from seafood. Here’s where things get tricky. To get omega-3s at therapeutic levels, you’d need to eat pounds of fish every day. And even if that sounds like your idea of a good time, most fish also contains mercury, a heavy metal that can attack the nervous system. Don’t worry, in moderation, your body can process mercury just fine, but the four servings of fish a day it would take to get therapeutic levels of omega-3 fatty acids? Not so much. I’d leave the mass-quantity fish consumption to Flipper and try an omega-3 supplement instead. Specifically, seek out a fish oil omega-3 sup made from anchovies or krill, which are low in mercury. Also, look for omega-3 supplements that have been “molecularly distilled,” meaning all those nasty heavy metals have been filtered out.
And here’s another tip. Quality fish oil supplements shouldn’t “repeat” on you (read: give you fish burps) but if they do, try storing them frozen. I can’t tell you why this works this way, but it’ll save you many awkward moments, so don’t look a gift halibut in the mouth.
The benefits of this supplement are staggering. “It’s used to treat body pain, any kind of osteoarthritis, depression and anxiety, mood disorders,” says Heather, “I think it’s probably the most popular and more accepted supplement in conventional medicine.”
I’m not advocating that you live like George Jetson and get all your nutrients from a pill. However, taking a daily multivitamin is a great safety net. Do you hit all your vitamin and mineral numbers every day? Even with that second helping of kale? What’s that you say? You have no idea? Well, you’re in good company because neither do I. But I know I increase my chances of hitting those numbers with a good multivitamin.
For the most part, too much is better than not enough when it comes to vitamins and minerals. True, you don’t want to overdo a few of them, especially the fat-based ones, but provided your kidneys are in good shape, a good multi won’t cause a problem. For the most part, you just pee out excess micronutrients.
Generally, you get what you pay for with supplements, so if you pick one from a reputable company that you trust and you avoid bargain-basement multivitamins, you’ll have much more success finding a quality one.
Also, vitamin pills are held together by something called “binders.” These binders vary depending on the brand. Certain binders can give some people stomachaches. If this happens to you, try taking it with food. If this doesn’t work, don’t give up on supplementation. Instead, try a different brand.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps you absorb calcium, which is crucial for maintaining bone density—something that becomes increasingly important as you grow older, especially for women. It also helps cells mature. (No one wants immature cells. They’re not potty-trained and they’re prone to temper tantrums.) Not a lot of foods contain the stuff naturally—oysters, several fish, and eggs, to name a few. This shouldn’t be an issue since our bodies can actually synthesize vitamin D, provided we have enough exposure to the sun. Back in the old days, when Pa worked the field all day while Ma chased the chickens around the yard, we all got plenty of vitamin D. But nowadays, we all spend our time under artificial lights, leaving many of us in desperate need.
“It prevents colon, breast, and prostate cancer,” states Heather. “There was a study that came out a few years ago that showed that patients who had suboptimal levels were more likely to have pancreatic or upper intestinal cancers. So, if you look at the country, you’ll see in the Northeast, everybody’s low in vitamin D and there are more incidences of cancers than there is in, say, Southern California.”
So the solution is obvious. You all need to move out here to Los Angeles. I have a guest room, so you can all crash at my pad until you find a place.
Or, instead, you can get a good vitamin D supplement. Look for vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, which is the kind that your body synthesizes. Therefore it’s the kind your body uses most efficiently—no sunblock required!
Aah! You’ve got bugs in your guts! Bugs, I tell you! Bugs!
Relax. So do I. So does everyone, in fact. The human intestines are home to millions of bacteria, or flora, some good and some bad, locked in a constant power struggle. The good bacteria help you digest certain foods; boost immunity and ward off cancer, allergies, and autoimmune diseases; and may even help you regulate your weight. On the other hand, the bad flora do the opposite and can lead to some nasty conditions like candida (yeast) overgrowth and leaky gut syndrome, where the lining of your gut is compromised, allowing pathogens to “leak” into your system. (I know! Heinous, huh?)
So it’s important to send a constant supply of reinforcements to the battle down below in the form of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria. You’ll find them in beans and other veggies, brown rice, and oat bran. Probiotics, which actually contain strains of good bacteria, show up in fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh, and natto—a fermented soybean goo with the consistency of egg whites.
Supplemental probiotics are a great way to get the job done. “It’s always a good idea for anyone,” Heather insists, “as a general immunity builder.”
, Tony Horton