How Do I Choose The Right Supplements For My Family?

Heather Dessinger

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How Do I Choose The Right Supplements For My Family?

Hey ya’ll! This is part three in a series on vitamins in supplements. Check out the dirt on fake “whole food” supplements here and what I use instead here.

My Life In Traffic Camera Photos

The ultimate mecca for red light runners is just four blocks away from my house. And while that mostly worries me, it’s kind of fun to think that my life can be chronicled via the paparrazzi-style rapid flash bulbs mounted in that intersection.

Now mind you, I am not the one running the light. Odds are, though, that you can find me sporting curlers, or gumbifying my arm into the back seat so a hungry baby can suck on my pinky, or puking into my own hands in many of the photos people shlep down to the courthouse.

About that last one: Would it surprise you if I said I’d guzzled a powdered green drink and two fistfuls of supplements that morning? Yep, Katie was about the size of a lima bean back then and I was determined to do the very best for her.

Oh How My Definition of “The Very Best” Has Changed!

Back then I had no idea what fermented cod liver oil was, or that many of the “whole food” supplements I was taking were really synthetic. The uncured black olives I craved like mad that contained nothing but salt and water? Oh yes, BPA-laden cans. I nearly cried when I found that out.

Most of us come to the real food movement with tons of misinformation to sort out. Is salt unhealthy? What about bacon? Is it really safe to leave milk on the counter for three days and then drink it? If you have regrets about the choices you made with bad info you’re not alone. I think we all do. But hey! Let’s be kind to ourselves and not beat ourselves up over what we didn’t know back then, okay? Deal?


Alrighty then, let’s tackle the last question in this series: Do we need to compensate for the nutrient-poor state of most farming soil?

Ah, there’s the rub! The truth is we really do need extra nutrients in our diet thanks to industrial farming practices. Our approach at the potamus house is to use targeted supplementation – meaning that we take the time to find out what nutrients we’re deficient in and then find high quality sources to supply it – with techniques for increasing the potency of our food.

How exactly do we do this? Good question…

How To Get More From Your Produce: Freshly Pressed Juices & Ferments

Our foods are complete packages with everything we need to “unpack” their nutrients – vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and a bunch of other things we haven’t discovered yet. To boost these properties we can do one of two things: concentrate them and/or make them more absorbable.


Freshly-pressed juices are a yummy way to get a “supershot” of many essential vitamins plus magnesium, selenium, zinc, other minerals and amino acids. According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, “Juices provide all the goodness from fruits and vegetables in a concentrated form . . . For example, to make a glass of carrot juice you need a pound of carrots. Nobody can eat a pound of carrots at once, but you can get all the nutrition from them by drinking the juice. On top of that juicing removes the fibre, which impairs absorption . . . The digestive system has virtually no work to do in digesting juices, they get absorbed in 20-25 minutes, providing the body with a concentrated amount of nutrients.”

To use juicing therapeutically, create a 50/50 blend of fruits and vegetables (beets should never be more than 5% of the total mixture) and make sure it is always freshly pressed. “Juices in [grocery stores] have been processed and pasteurized, which destroys all the enzymes and most vitamins and phytonutrients. ” says Dr. Campbell-McBride. “They are a source of processed sugar, which will feed abnormal bacteria and fungi in the gut. In freshly extracted juice the natural sugars are balanced with enzymes, minerals, and other nutrients, which turn them into energy for the body.”

Getting Started: Prices for juicers are all over the map. The problem with cheap brands is, but not everyone (including us) wants to invest in a thousand dollar model. Considering how much used to spend on vitamin powders and such every month I knew I would save money in the long run but this was a purchase I debated over. In the end I did my research and settled on the Greenstar, but I’ve heard this Omega is pretty good, too.

Fermented Foods

Fermenting is a great way to boost both the vitamin levels and the bioavailability (absorption rate) of nutrients in food. And depending on which recipe you choose, it can be REALLY EASY!

“Vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains subjected to lactic acid fermentation also see increases in both their macro- and micronutrient profiles. The bioavailability of amino acids, particularly lysine with its antiviral effects and methionine – increases with lactic acid fermentation. [2. Evaluation of lysine and methionine production in some Lactobacilli and yeasts. International Journal of Food Microbiology. Odunfa et al.]For grains, sprouting prior to souring can increase the availability of protein even further. Vegetables that have undergone lactic acid fermentation as in the case of sauerkraut and kimchi, often see an increase in the activity of vitamin C and vitamin A.

Fermented Food: Benefits of Lactic Acid Fermentation (emphasis mine)

Getting Started: Some of my fave recipes are carrot dilly sticks from Cara at Health Home & Happiness and fizzy water kefir, but really you can ferment anything! Here are some more recipes to get you started.

Magical Minerals

Although not a supplement, I want to talk about bone broths for a sec. They are a fabulous source of highly absorbable minerals AND as a bonus they help reduce wrinkles and cellulite! The Weston A. Price foundation has fabulous instructions for creating delicious broths here.

Other Considerations

  • Sometimes high-quality multi-vitamins ARE the best approach. This is especially true in the case of severe foods allergies when a lot of foods are off limits. Everyone is different, so do what works for you and your family. When needed I supplement my family with high-quality, non-synthetic multis that contain a balanced range of nutrients/micronutrients (You can buy quality multi-vitamins here)
  • According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, supplements in liquid form are better than powders, capsules or tablets. Especially those that can be absorbed through the skin.
  • “Choose supplements with a high absorption rate,” says Dr. Campbell-McBride, “for example, vitamin and mineral supplements with added fulvic acid. Fulvic acid (not to be confused with folic acid) is produced by bacteria in soil. It can ensure a very high absorption rate for a supplement the natural way. It also has good chelating properties for heavy metals. Soil bacteria in your probiotic will provide your gut with this acid.” (Gut & Psychology Syndrome p. 297)
  • Cellulose – I don’t think cellulose capsules have the same absorption problems as stearates. I’m still researching, though, and will post as soon as I have a definitive answer.
  • Soil degradation and the way we filter our water is making it very difficult to get adequate magnesium. If you find that you are deficient in this mineral I recommend skipping the pill – you’ll get better results by taking epsom salt baths or spraying magnesium oil on your skin. Here are some simple instructions for making magnesium oil.
  • Modern day people are often deficient in B vitamins and K2, both vital for health. If the bacteria in our digestive tract is healthy it should be making some of these nutrients for us, but we need food sources as well. Liver and red meat are great sources of B vitamins. K2 is found in pastured dairy such as eggs, butter, and cheese as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut and natto. In addition to these foods our family takes High Vitamin Butter Oil from Green Pastures, which is a butter extract rich in Vitamins K2, A & D. I’ve also begun supplementing with Jarrow mk-7 version of fermented natto for K2.
  • If you don’t have a good source for pastured organ meats (or have a family member that refuses to eat it!), dried liver supplements might be beneficial. This is what we started with while I worked up the nerve to buy and prepare it.

So there you have it! My two  – or four! or six! – cents on vitamins and supplements. If you sent a question about a specific product that I didn’t cover, I’m sorry. I seriously considered running up to the health food store and trying to label sleuth some of the brands you mentioned but uh, my kids really like to rearrange supplement shelves.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world.