Do Superfood Shakes Actually Work?
The supplements industry is worth an astounding 132 billion dollars worldwide. In the western world, 80% of people take at least one supplement. Nearly everyone in the world has heard of supplements. But what are they, exactly? Plus, do they actually work?
My name is Aaron Siwoku. Im a competitive athlete and If you are familiar with my products or blog, you may have noticed that one of the central topics I talk about is supplements and superfoods. This comes from the fact that I have done 20 years of personal research on that topic, and I guess we could call it a “central interest” in my life. It is my passion and a huge part of my life.
Now I feel the time has come to talk a bit about the supplements industry and what you and I can typically find on the shelves and online when it comes to buying protein and superfood supplements,
The supplements industry is worth an astounding 132 billion dollars worldwide. In the western world, 80% of people take at least one supplement. Nearly everyone in the world has heard of supplements.
But what are they, exactly?
As usual, let’s start with the basics.
AS the word itself, supplement means something that is added to something else to make it better or enhance it. In the context we are talking about now, we refer to dietary supplements. And they can be defined as “a product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (such as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food”.
So, it’s something that’s meant to supplement your normal nutrition by either increasing the dosage of things you are already taking or by giving your body access to nutrients or substances you normally would not encounter in your diet. Most of the substances sold as supplements would not have an effect in doses we already take them in, so supplements are a concentrated version of those. All in all, sounds fine. However, when you get into the details, a lot of murky stuff starts to emerge.
Always check the ingredients labels is what I tell my friends, everything you need to know is there. If you don’t recognise it, google it and you will get all the answers you need about whether it is from mother nature or the deep dark pits of some unscrupulous supplement companies basement laboratory run by profit maximising gremlins in white coats that feed you ingredients and health claims they wouldn’t dare give to their loved ones.
There are a few dangers associated with most commercial supplements, so let’s deal with them one by one:
Lack of regulation — Who controls this?
One crucial thing that is different between let’s say pharmaceutical medication and supplements is that medication has to go through a rigorous clinical trial period before being allowed to the market (and the effects of a lot of them are disputable). Supplements do not.
There is no compulsory regulation for supplement companies to have their products tested, so if the company is not an honest one then they don’t have to test their products prior to selling them. So that has opened a big avenue for pharmaceutical companies to include all kinds of unhealthy products into the products they produce such as xylitol, xanthan gum, fillers, excessive amounts of sugar and completely artificial flavouring. A lot of the substances included in supplements don’t even exist in our diet, and for all eternity…never did.
Many of these substances used by dishonest supplement companies are cheap and not natural so they have questionable effects, and even more questionable side-effects due to the fact most of these supplement companies care about their profit margins way more than they care about your health.
One statistic to note is that according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 23,000 people are sent to the emergency room each year due to complications from supplement ingestion, with weight loss supplements being the number one culprit. Always check the ingredients labels is what I tell my friends, everything you need to know is there. If you don’t recognise it, google it and you will get all the answers you need about whether it is from mother nature or the deep dark pits of some unscrupulous supplement companies basement laboratory run by profit maximising gremlins in white coats that feed you ingredients and health claims they wouldn’t dare give to their loved ones.
Another aspect to this lack of regulation is the fact that most supplements are not tested for contents before they go to market. So, the pill bottle might contain different doses or even something completely else than the advertised substance. Recently, the New York State Attorney General’s office unveiled what could potentially amount to fraud in the dietary supplement industry. The office targeted four major retailers of supplements, Target, GNC, Walgreens, and Walmart, and accused them of selling bogus supplements. The office backed their claim that the retailers were selling supplements that contained very little, or none at all, of the advertised ingredients and demanded that the supplements be removed from their shelves as they could potentially cause harm.
Efficacy — Do they even work?
As a result of a gigantic industry and billions of dollars of market worth, there is a constant pressure on pharmaceutical and supplement companies to innovate and create new products. Now, with the lack of regulation mentioned above, this means that many products that are brought to the market will not really be as effective as what the marketing blurb says on the label. When examined under a scientific scope, most supplements have little to no data to suggest that they’re effective, let alone safe. They’re often backed by tenuous studies in rodents and petri dishes or tiny batches of people. And the industry is rife with hype and wishful thinking — even the evidence for multivitamins isn’t solid. There are also outright deadly scams. Basically, they will put anything in a pill and try to sell it to you for profit. When that is combined with the lack of regulation of the industry, it makes one truly afraid. So you need to be very careful and pick a supplement company with actual morals, a company that you can trust to create clean supplements that don’t contain nonsense!
That is exactly why I founded Honest Earth Nutrition, because In 20 years of taking supplements I couldn’t find a company with supplements that didn’t contain nonsense and also tasted good. It was either one or the other! They tasted great and were full of rubbish, or they didn’t contain chemicals but tasted like awful. Like sand mixed with water. Not pleasant
The problem of bioavailability — Its not what you eat, it’s what you absorb!
What is bioavailability? Quite simply, it is the measure of how readily a substance is absorbed by your organism after it has been ingested. For instance, a supplement with high bioavailability will be properly absorbed by the lining of the gut and go directly where it is supposed to, working its effect. A supplement with low bioavailability will wither pass through you and be excreted in your stool, or get to your blood but be filtered out by the kidneys almost immediately. That means that very little of it, if any at all, will stay in your body and actually have an effect.
Whether and which vitamins and supplements are actually bioavailable is quite literally the billion-dollar question. Vitamins sound perfect- a good for you, convenient and sure way to get the nutrients you need. Or is that too good to be true. When you think about it, it’s the bioavailability of a vitamin that might be its most important feature.
Some vitamins are more bioavailable in vitamin form, while others are not. For example, most vitamins on the market are synthetic and not naturally based from whole food sources (like Honest Earth’s Plant Based Performance Protein for instance which is made completely from whole food, raw natural ingredients). Of course, natural is generally best, but synthetic vitamins are actually the norm for the industry. The problem arises when the synthetic vitamins are more harmful than helpful. One particular vitamin supplement that is questionable is B vitamins. Many would never guess that many B vitamin supplements are made from petrochemicals! And there is no sure way to recognize which supplements are synthetic, except for looking for things which say “from natural sources”. One more way to potentially recognize synthetics with low bioavailability is by the dosage. If the vitamin supplement has a high or seemingly unnatural potency, the product is synthetic. For example, a product that provides 1,000 percent of vitamin C is unusually high and likely synthetic. The manufacturer does this to charge you for a high dosage, but then they know that only a fraction of that will be actually absorbed and actually have an effect!
Another issue is noting whether the vitamins are in isolated form. When you remove a vitamin part from the whole food form, you get fractionated pieces of the whole, but that has consequences. Nature intended for you to consume food in whole, natural form because all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes together work synergistically to give your body the nutrition it requires for optimal health. Your body only absorbs a small percentage of an isolated form of a vitamin and/or mineral and it utilizes even less, so the bioavailability is greatly affected. You get the best bioavailability in whole food form or in natural supplements derived from whole foods, plants and fungi.
What is the right dosage?
Since the synthetic supplements, and especially vitamins, have a different bioavailability then natural ones, no one really knows how much of them you’re supposed to take. As I said above, companies often put too much of it, much more than the amount to have any proven effect.
Another industry-wide problem is that many of the manufacturers place far more than the recommended daily dosage of vitamins into their products. This can be detrimental, as Norman Hord, an associate professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Michigan State University describes it, “excesses of all nutrients, from water, to iron, to water-soluble B vitamins, can potentially cause toxicities. People who take vitamins and minerals in amounts above the established upper limits of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) may harm tissues where the vitamin is stored in their body…that’s why you shouldn’t take more than the recommended amount.” A study mentioned above regarding certain supplements increasing cancer risk by 25% if they were taken in excess of their recommended dose. This can be particularly dangerous for youth who take vitamin supplements meant for children.
I will write a bit more about this topic here and there. For now, let’s just say that the conclusion is: Stay well away from most commercial supplements, and especially synthetic ones! Look towards smaller companies, who source and use only natural sources for their supplements! Always check the ingredients label (I even do this when buying sauces, or nut milk at the supermarket) and if you don’t recognise a particular ingredient then google it!
Wishing You Wellness!
Aaron is the founder of www.thehonestearth.com To lead a quality life, one must be nourished with quality. We make the best plant based protein powders & superfood supplements with sustainable raw ingredients from around the world.