Written by Courtney, Contributing Writer
The foods we consume and the lifestyle we live form the foundation of our health. The nutrients in the foods we eat are the building blocks for all of the biological activity within the various systems of our bodies. Disease occurs when our bodies lack the nutrients necessary to perform these functions properly.
This can be due to a poor diet, an inactive lifestyle, harmful chemicals we inhale or absorb through our skin, or undue stress from a reliance on our own strength to get through the day to day instead of finding our strength in the Lord.
There are a multitude of vitamins and supplements to help support our hurried lifestyles and sometimes less-than-ideal food choices. Walk into any grocery or discount store and you can become overwhelmed with the supplements available to you.
Are Supplements Necessary?
Over the years, I've wrestled with the idea of using vitamins and minerals to supplement my family's diet. I have mixed feelings about supplements.
Ideally, I believe we should obtain vitamins and minerals through the diet, just like we do the macronutrients protein, fats, carbohydrates. When we select nutrient-dense nourishing foods, the nutrients obtained from them are in their natural state in the proper ratios and are easily absorbed and utilized most effectively within the body. Supplements can contain imbalanced ratios or poor quality nutirents that pass through the body without being absorbed and used. This is certainly the case with synthetically-formulated supermarket vitamins.
Now, on the other hand, we can't deny the fact that the soil we tend today is inferior to that which our ancestors once enjoyed. Our current agricultural system has stripped the soil of the majority of nutrients necessary for strong, healthy plant growth. As a result, plants cannot withstand disease and pests and thus need to be doused with strong chemical fertilizers to grow in the first place and pesticides to stay alive.
Our conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains are anything but thriving. Because the health of the soil is critical for plant health, today's grains and produce contain a fraction of the nutrients they once did. Organic produce is healthier, but no doubt still affected by conventional farming methods.
For this reason, it may be wise to include supplements in our diet. Which ones and how much are tricky questions, though, and should be based on a variety of factors, taking into consideration things like the availability of local seasonal foods as well as past and current health history.
With the exception of cod liver oil, my family doesn't take vitamins or other supplements on a regular basis. We will sometimes take muilti-vitamins and occasionally specific vitamins or minerals to treat a specific illness or when a deficiency is suspected. I typically take a multi-vitamin throughout most of my pregnancies and during most of the first year or so while breastfeeding, just for that peace of mind. I will sometimes keep a supply of chidlren's multivitamins on hand for stretches of reduced appetites or to boost little immune systems during periods when illness abounds during the winter months. Honestly, though, my biggest concern during those winter months is a lack of vitman D, which we do get through the cod liver oil.
I understand the dangers and pitfalls of vitamin supplements, namely the tendency to eat more carelessly while on them and the incredible spectrum of quality among the different types and brands out there. I'm careful to not rely on them, but instead to use them wisely and sparingly only as needed. We seek to meet the majority of our nutritional needs through food. Thoughtfully selecting nutritious foods and preparing nourishing meals is a priority and something I take much joy in as a mother.
A Homemade Herbal Mixture to Supplement a Healthy Diet
I've learned that herbs can be an excellent way to support a healthy diet and over time, I've come to rely on herbal preparations where I once counted on vitamin pills. Many whole food-based vitamins do contain concentrated foods and herbs to supply vital nutrients, and this is ideal when selecting a good vitamin source.
I'm not saying all vitamins are bad or that you should stop taking them. We still take vitamins from time to time, especially to treat illnesses since we don't rely on conventional medicine. But for the most part, I like to use herbal powder mixes in place of the packaged vitamin for a number of reasons.
- Nutrients straight from whole foods/herbs are more bioavailable, meaning they are best absorbed because they are in their natural form along with the proper ratio of complimentary vitamins and minerals that aid in their absorption.
- Concentrated herbal powders contain more than just vitamins and minerals. Phytochemicals in the forms of cartenoids and flavonoids, for instance, are present in dried herbs, but not all vitamin supplements contain them. Phytochemicals are beneficial for a number reasons, probably the most important being their antioxidant properties.
- Herbal powders don't contain any sweeteners or additives.
- I can alter my herbal powder mixes to meet specific needs during different ages or stages. (For example, during my first trimester of this pregnancy, I included ginger root powder in my herbal mixture to help improve digestion and alleviate fatigue and nausea. I've also included eleuthero root in the past to boost energy and help combat stress and lemon peel for extra vitamin C.)
- Herbal powder preparations are less expensive than vitamins, and when I throw together my own herbs instead of purchasing prepared herbal powders, the savings are even greater.
Wheatgrass: Wheatgrass is the highlight of this powder mix. It is a very concentrated source of a multitude of nutrients, including beneficial enzymes that make it so easily digestible. It contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, and is particularly known for it's high chlorophyll and mineral content. It is rich in B vitamins and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. There are entire books just on wheatgrass and its benefits. Some say it nourishes and revitalizes practically every cell and every system within the body. I'm sure some of its claims are exaggerated, but I'm convinced it's good stuff! I like to grow my own because it's so easy and grows so quickly, but when I do, we juice it and consume it that way. For this herbal mix, I purchase wheatgrass powder from my local food co-op. I'm sure it would be simple to grow and dehydrate your own, though!
Barley Grass: A complete protein (contains all essential amino acids), barley grass also contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals, noted for its high amount of calcium and iron in particular.
Oat Straw: A good source of protein, B vitamins, vitamin A, and several minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and iron. Oat Straw is great for a number of things, but is best known for its positive effect on the nervous system and its ability to stabilize blood sugar.
Alfalfa: Alfalfa has always been one of my favorite herbal supplements! It is a rich source of minerals due to it's deep roots that soak up trace minerals from far beneath the soil. It is a good source of vitamins, particularly vitamin A, C, E, and K. It contains a great amount of chlorophyll and is another complete protein.
Spiriluna: A blue-green algae containing large amounts of chlorophyll (green) and phycocyanin (blue), spiriluna's benefits are numerous. It is another excellent and complete source of protein and a good source of several essential fatty acids, it also contains a great amount of vitamins and minerals.
Kelp: Kelp is a great source of minerals. I especially appreciate kelp powder for its high amount of iodine. We use real salt, sourced from the sea and unrefined. Real salt contains iodine but not in significant amounts. Iodine is critical for many body functions, particularly metabolism and thyroid function. It is best sourced from sea food, but but for a diet lower in seafood, kelp is an excellent supplement.
Fennel Seed Powder: Fennel seeds are a good source of minerals, particularly rich in iron, and contain vitamins A, C, E, and some B vitamins, as well as other antioxidants.
Stinging Nettle: Well-known for a variety of functions within the body. It is espeically rich in iron and contains plenty of vitamin C for iron absorption. It is also high in vitamin K.
Dandelion: Where do I even begin? Dandelion is rich in B vitamins, vitamins A, C, and E and is a good source of the minerals potassium, iron, and zinc. It is a mild cleansing and detoxifying herb, but not so much so that it can't be used safely during pregnancy and in young children. Stephanie describes the benefits of dandelions and shares her own experience harvesting and drying her own dandelions here.
Rose Hips: Probably one of the best sources of vitamin C, rose hips is also desired for it's rich source of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, lycopene and luetin, and other antioxidants. This makes rose hips great for boosting the immune system and protecting cells from oxidative damage.
Tumeric: This is an overall fantastic herb, not to mention a tasty culinary spice! A good-quality tumeric found in a bulk herb or health food store supports many systems within the body. It is a fantastic antioxidant, contains a number of vitamins and minerals, and is also notable for how well it supports healthy metabolism.
Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast contains a decent amount of fiber and protein as well as some trace minerals, namely zinc and selenium, but it is best known for its high amount of B vitamins.
This recipe is not perfect, but it is my attempt at ensuring my family receives an abundant supply of nutrients from natural sources.I have altered this powder mix as I discovered new herbal sources of specific nutrients to meet specific needs. As you can see, this current recipe contains an abundance of B vitamins. I sought to add more sources of B vitamins early in my current pregnancy to be sure I was getting an adequate supply and to try to help with severe exhaustion. I also wanted to ensure an adequate supply of naturally-sourced and highly absorbable iron, so that is not lacking here, either.
The Perfect Addition to Your Daily Smoothie or Fresh Juice
How do we take this herbal concoction?
My family loves smoothies! We make up a family-sized batch nearly every morning. My ten year-old daughter has taken over the task of preparing our morning smoothies because she finds so much satisfaction in creating various combinations of this nutritious treat. We sometimes call her our "Smoothie Girl" in because of her love of this task.
We simply add what we call our "super power powder" with whatever we decide to throw into the blender that day. We rarely follow recipes for smoothies. It really just depends on what we have on hand and what sounds good at the time. A typical smoothies contains about half veggies and half fruit along with either water or yogurt. We sometimes dress up our smoothies with freshly-ground flax seeds, chia seeds, coconut oil, fish oil, raw eggs, fresh parsley (or other herbs), or anything else that sounds nutritious and delicious.
Kale and spinach are our favorite go-to greens, probably the base of most of our smoothies. Other favorite smoothie veggies are beets, carrots, celery, tomatoes, garlic, cucumbers, and chard. Our favorite fruits for smoothies are bananas and berries, particularly blueberries and raspberries. Other fruits we often add are mangoes, pineapples, avocados, peaches, and pears. We try to use either seasonal or frozen fruit.
Over time, we've learned to gauge how much to add without measuring, so I'm not a great source of smoothie recipe amounts, even though we've tried just about everything! We make enough for my older children and I to have about 8 ounces each, while the younger ones (5 and under) get about 4-6 ounces each.
We add about 1/4 -1/3 cup of the herbal mixture to our smoothie batch, which ends up being about one tablespoon each for the older children and myself and about 1/2 tablespoon or so for the little ones. Some days we use more or less or leave it out altogether, depending on the type of smoothie we're making. Also, it's not something we take daily, just most of the time.
Interestingly, my youngest children devour their smoothies faster and seem to enjoy them even more than the older ones do. I think it's because they were accustomed to drinking such a variety of fresh flavor combinations at a much earlier age. Smoothies are a great way to serve fresh fruits and vegetables in a very digestible form to babies and toddlers! Serving them early in the morning gets them off to a great start and ensures they fill up on plenty of essential nutrient-dense foods, which is very important in the early years when their little appetites wax and wane.
I do want to remind you that I am not an expert in nutrition. I'm simply a mom who wants to provide the best foundation of health for my family. I believe the food and herbs God created are the best way to nourish my family, and I am delighted to share with you some of the creative ways I've learned to do so! I'd love to hear your input as I know my herbal powder recipe is far from perfect. I'm always learning new ways to keep my family well-nourished and healthy.