Supplements: Part of the Cure for Modernity

By Kristen Suzanne   |  21Comments|

As a raw vegan chef, author and teacher, I’m often asked, “Is it necessary to take supplements if I’m on a balanced, organic raw food diet?” I used to assume not, based on the idea that a raw diet is the food that humans evolved to eat. Well, it turns out I was wrong. No matter how well you eat, I think it is essential to supplement.

Here’s why:

Paleolithic humans foraged from hundreds of species of wild (unhybridized) plants that grew in rich soils that had never been farmed (let alone farmed with pesticides and herbicides). In modern society, the best you can hope to achieve is to eat all or mostly organically grown plants of maybe a few dozen varieties, most of which have been hybridized over generations to maximize appearance, size and calories rather than nutrition, and farmed on the same land over and over. Even with the best organic farming practices, minerals don’t just appear from nowhere…. Soil loses some of its punch with every crop unless some artificial or natural process replenishes the minerals (volcanoes, glaciers, etc.). In short, even the best of modern food isn’t anything like what our pre-agricultural forbears ate, and to get adequate levels of some nutrients, you’d have to eat more food than is humanly possible. Supplements are, quite literally, part of the cure for modernity.

But perhaps the main reason I supplement, in addition to those mentioned above, is that paleolithic humans did not evolve to maximize longevity, such as living into one’s 90s. (Their lives were so perilous that they rarely lived to be 40.) Over the years, many things break down in our bodies and don’t work as efficiently as when we’re young, and it’s accurate to say that this process is “natural”… except that we’ve made it worse with an unavoidable daily attack from environmental toxins. And so here, at least, is one instance where I’m more than happy to deviate from nature’s plan and use some nutritional science and technology to reach my goal of becoming a centenarian. In fact, I’m philosophically closer to being in the camp of Ray Kurzweilian (of “Singularity” and life extension fame). He takes hundreds of pills a day. Actually, I only take between 0-25 pills a day (sometimes more if I’m taking a lot of chlorella tablets), of up to 15 kinds, depending on what’s going on in my life. My husband does as well; a different set of supplements unique to his situation.

There are many things to consider with the art of supplementation, and a good place to start is with your doctor and blood tests. Every year I get the annual run-of-the-mill blood test for basics, and I also get a micronutrient test that my naturopathic doctor orders. We take these results into consideration, along with many other things. I’ll vary what I take based on my goal for longevity, the physical activity of my life, as well as whether I’m pregnant, breast-feeding, trying to conceive (fertility), stressed, ill, looking for more energy, cleansing, detoxing, hormonal and/or traveling (considerations: ease of packing, where I’m traveling and for how long). I also split up my supplements and take them in two or three batches throughout the day. Some are taken with food; some are taken on an empty stomach.

Although my supplement repository changes, there are some staples that I like to include “almost” always. I say “almost” because there are times when I just plain have a supplement-free day. The following is a list of supplements you’ll routinely find on my countertop or in my refrigerator (in addition to some food-source “supplements,” like Brazil nuts for selenium). I also include a list of supplements that I “frequently” have in my life. Remember, the items below are just a partial list of everything I take. Furthermore, I’m constantly researching and experimenting, meaning I’m always trying new things that I’m not ready to recommend yet but I may in the future. Note: If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, be sure to check with your physician or midwife before taking supplements.

I almost always take vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin), probiotics, multi-vitamin, vegan DHA+EPA, vitamin D (I prefer D2 because it’s vegan and effective). I frequently take: digestive enzymes, chlorella, magnesium, vitamin K2.

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21 responses to Supplements: Part of the Cure for Modernity
  1. Wow, thats inspiring. I believe the key in success is being passionate about what you write.

  2. up to 25 pills a day? Are you kidding? Very unrealistic in general and financially. I’d love an article for the “average” person.

  3. Stacy said on May 2, 2012

    What brand vegan DHA+EPA do you take

  4. Donna said on May 2, 2012

    I dont like that most supplements are synthetic and not “real” vitamins. never know what you are getting, really, or what is in it.

  5. How about kombucha tea for B vitamins and probiotics? Is this just as good? 1 serving has 25% Folic Acid, and 20% each of B2, B6, B1, B3, and B12. It also contains 1 billion Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086 and 1 billion S. Boulardil. I’m just wondering because I don’t take B vitamins on days I drink kombucha.

  6. You only need less than 3mcg of b-12 a day. I think the normal plant based person could get away with taking a good quality liquid vitamin. Especially if you do consume other fortified products like nut milks, cereals, breads , teas and nut yeast. Strangely, if I take a 1000 mcg b12 my face will break out….I can only take a child’s dose or one tab a week.

  7. Thanks for the article! Eating a Real Food diet from Organic sources is the most desirable way to provide the body with nutrition however I do agree with you that our food is lacking what we need nutritionally on a daily basis. Supplements really just bridge the gap between the food we eat and what is not longer in the food. Simple! In today’s world why anyone wouldn’t consider the extra nutrition that supplements provide is a wonder to me. I like your comment “almost” always as I agree with you that having an occasional day off is a good thing! My supplements come in a powder form so I don’t have to take in all the pills. Thanks again for the info!

  8. Sean said on May 2, 2012

    I really like the article. As someone who actively practices paleo, or some version of paleo, i sometimes forget that this is not the time of the caveman. So, i supplement with: Coconut Oil, Zinc, Magnesium, Amala, Probiotics, Psyllium Husk, and Protein.

  9. Thanks for this! Can anyone recommend a good supplement brand? I do make sure my supplements are vegan, but other than that, I’m not certain what I should be looking for.

  10. Rock on, Kristen! I totally agree that supplementation is critical to one’s diet even if it is a raw/vegan diet. My supplements of choice are Vitamin D3 (even though I am a raw foodist) and a Super B Complex supplement. I also use chia seeds in my smoothies everyday for Omega Fatty Acids and eat a handful of almonds for Omega 6 Fatty Acids. I have tried many of the supplements you discuss above and love a lot of those, too. Because each person is different, I agree that he or she needs to find the right blend of what works best for them.

  11. Love the simplicity of this post because this becomes a very complex and individualized topic for everyone. Our dietary needs vary and to recommend one set of supplements across the board would not be appropriate. When people ask me “how do you…?” with regards to diet I explain that it’s taken me 10+ years to find the balance of what works for me. Everyone has to be willing to take their journey and learn the diet, supplements & exercise needed for their body over the span of a life. Cheers & looking forward to future postins on CSL!

  12. Suzanne, You make a great argument. I’m also asked quite frequently about this from my clients and I like how thorough and honest you are in the answer.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge in such an empowering way!

  13. Kristen, You make a great argument. I’m also asked quite frequently about this from my clients and I like how thorough and honest you are in the answer.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge in such an empowering way!

  14. excellent post mahanagar times likes that and sir tell me how i can publish your post at my news portal. ..thanks

  15. The key, which I’m glad you mentioned, is that supplementation should be based on blood (and perhaps other) tests. Not the standard CDC that you M.D. orders, but, rather, the in-depth nutritional tests that naturopaths are familiar with.

    We are each unique individuals with differing pasts, genetic predispositions, and inner terrain that has been affected by our past eating habits, antibiotic use, stress, etc. I would never recommend what I take (also up to 25 a day) for someone else. Their body and needs are different than mine even if they’re the same age, sex, and eat the same diet currently.

    And, I consider myself to be an “average” person. I don’t consider the cost of supplements to be a luxury any more than buying food is a luxury. If I don’t have my health, money isn’t going to matter.

  16. Great points! I often find supplements are overlooked by my guests who maintain a plant-based diet, as they assume all the necessary nutrients are there! It’s important to remember that a lot of supplements offer such, such important goodness to our bodies. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Lisa said on May 8, 2012

    Arbonne is 100% vegan and has amazing supplements. I take a Daily Power Pack everyday and love them. Contains 5 supplements with multivitamins, multiminerals, probiotics and enzymes,

  18. Mike said on May 9, 2012

    First of all, if palaeolithic humans only lived to be 40, how is their diet better than ours if we’re living into our 70’s and 80’s on average with less nutrient dense diets? That really negates the argument that the Paleo diet is the way to go. Secondly, how are people with average to low income levels able to afford all those supplements? And why would they even want to live longer if they’re going to be forced into poverty? Or is this optimal health thing only limited to the affluent?

  19. I like to take my supplements in liquid form as I think it absorbs more efficiently into my system. We’ve been drinking a juice supplement that is filled with antioxidants, vitamins and is chemical-free and super healthy…as close to raw ina bottle. It works beautifully. We found this or rather,went in search of it because none of my kids liked taking pills adn neither do I. We also juice with organic fruit & veggies in addition to the supplement health juice.

  20. I’ve also found, that in the long run, quality of life is more valuable than anything. My grandparents lived into their 80’s but were taking approximately 10 prescription pills each per day and were not physically healthy. There is so much more disease that has simple become common and normal in our society and I venture to guess that this disease is directly related to how we eat. I also imagine that if someone is interested in improving their health, they will find a way to supplement that is in line with their income. It’s not a black and white situation. I beleive there are 2 kinds of people in the world: those that take care of their health now and those that pay for it later:-)

  21. I’m an average person and a single mother. I take between 10 and 14 vitamins in the morning and the same at night! And I wouldnt have it any other way. I take a multi mineral, an antioxidant, fish oils, vitamin d, tumeric and glucosamine, milk thistle, and a few others depending on other factors. my teenager does almost the same thing! When people are getting sick or the flu in my community I am almost always well.