COVID-19 ushered in a new wave of interest in immune system strength and health supplements—and that market is only growing.
“The global impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and staggering, with dietary supplements witnessing a positive demand shock across all regions amid the pandemic,” research organization Fortune Business Insights found.
The market grew by nearly 27 percent in 2020 alone, according to Fortune, and is expected to grow from nearly $72 billion in 2021 to more than $128 billion in 2028.
Whether you’re an athlete looking to recover faster and reach your fitness goals, or a person with dietary restrictions who’s concerned about nutrient deficiencies, supplements can benefit lots of different people. But with all the wellness marketing campaigns out there trying to convince consumers, it can be hard to parse the ads and figure out what your body will actually benefit from.
That’s part of why SLO County local Hector Escalante Jr. opened up his store, Coast Nutra: to help people make research-backed and informed decisions about supplements—what Coast Nutra calls “nutraceuticals”—to reach their fitness goals. The products Coast Nutra offers include protein powders, green superfood supplements, and amino acids, among others.
“Supplementation is meant to be an addition,” Escalante Jr. said. “We want customers to know that supplements alone are not going to give you the end result. We always like to educate our customers that you want to keep a good balance of your activity levels [and] nutrition.”
Escalante Jr. first opened Coast Nutra in Santa Maria at the end of 2019. The pandemic hit soon after, but that didn’t stop him from opening a second storefront in San Luis Obispo in 2021.
“Especially during the pandemic, immunity, health, and wellness has become a huge focal point,” he said. “Our counties, SLO and Santa Barbara counties, are very health oriented.”
For a holistic approach to supplementation, Coast Nutra partners with local gyms and trainers, encouraging customers to seek out an active lifestyle. The store is all about transparency.
“We give full product descriptions for every product that we have, with full detail. We focus on California brands, all 100 percent transparent, third-party tested, safe for sport,” Escalante Jr. said. “We don’t bring in the big, corporate-based brands, so there’s no commonality [in products] between us and GNC, The Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World.”
Having worked as a trainer for 15 years, Escalante Jr. said this experience informs his approach.
“We focus on the goal: What are we looking to accomplish, and how can we be supportive of that?” he said. “What have you taken, products-wise? Then we focus on what brands that we carry that would be either similar or better for your health, because we don’t carry brands that have fillers or proprietary blends, all this unnecessary junk.”
Fitness is just one niche that the supplement industry occupies. Supplements can also be used to target nutritional deficiencies for folks who have certain medical conditions or dietary restrictions. But Dr. Peggy Papathakis, a Cal Poly professor of nutrition, told New Times that people should focus first and foremost on what they’re eating.
“It totally depends on the person: stage of life, disease,” she said. “If you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains, a plant-based diet with some animal products, dairy, other proteins, there’s usually not a need for a supplement.”
But not everyone, of course, is able to eat foods from all these categories.
“If you’re lactose intolerant and you don’t consume any dairy, and you don’t drink any of the alternative milks, then calcium and vitamin D are very appropriate supplements,” Papathakis said. “If you’re like me, I have osteopenia, then a calcium, vitamin D supplement is very important.”
One of the most common deficiencies in the United States is iron, Papathakis said. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who menstruate, don’t eat meat, or frequently donate blood are at the highest risk for iron deficiency anemia. Blood work can help gauge iron levels.
“If you measure ferritin, your storage iron, if that was low, that would show you you’re low in iron,” she said. “Iron deficiency anemia is the United States’ most common nutrient deficiency—about 10 or 12 percent of the population.”
Papathakis added that many people don’t eat enough fatty fish, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient for the brain.
“It’s good for your eyes too, all your membranes,” she said. “We are made up of cells, and our cells all have membranes, and those membranes are all made up of lipids, or fats.”
The easiest way to determine if you’re getting enough nutrients, Papathakis said, is to look at the quality of your diet.
“Are you eating three to four servings of fruit a day? Are you eating three or four servings of vegetables a day? Are you eating whole grains, maybe five or six servings of those a day?” she said. “I think people who eat well feel better.” Δ
Reach Staff Writer Malea Martin at [email protected]