I’m very clear with my stance on supplementation: I believe even the best supplements should do just that—supplement the diet.
If you regularly visit my site or know anything about me, you know I believe in whole foods that are as least processed or refined as possible and that we should all be getting most of our nutrients from foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
Ideally, we would all eat the perfect amounts and balance of just the right foods to obtain optimal nutrition. I do think it’s realistic for some of us to meet most of our needs very well through food alone. But, most of us don’t live in perfect eating worlds. Our food supply, busy lifestyles, and simply our choices make it difficult for us to meet our needs. This is why I say that there’s a time and place for supplementing the diet.
If your lifestyle, palate, time, energy, or priorities make it hard for you to get all the nutrition you need in through foods, supplementation may be appropriate.
Here are 6 of the best supplements to consider taking
I am a big-time lover of healthy fats, especially, omega-3s. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for heart health, important for immune functioning, brain health and the inflammatory response.
Scientists are also studying the effects of omega-3 supplementation on mood because these wonderful fatty acids are the building blocks of the brain. There is also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can fight depression, improve sleep, and boost libido—woot woot!
Salmon, walnuts, dark leafy greens, and fatty fish are rich natural sources of omega-3s and we all should be incorporating these foods into our diet, unless of course you have an allergy.
But if you want to try a supplement to take your omega-3 intake a step further, choose a pharmaceutical grade fish oil with both EPA and DHA. These are two fatty acids that work together to keep us healthy. Research has found that the ratio of these particular fatty acids in most Americans’ diets is imbalanced. This is why we specifically recommend omega-3 supplementation with EPA and DHA.
It seems the gut is all the rage lately. New research is looking at the gut microbiome and weight management—we’re learning how important it is to have a GI tract brimming with microbes to maintain a healthy weight.
Your gut has over 400 types of probiotic bacteria (good guy bugs in your belly) which help promote good digestion and help fight bad bacteria found in your intestines.
Probiotics may also help with infections of the digestive tract, enhance immune function, and control inflammatory bowel disease. Most people use probiotics to prevent diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by medications or antibiotics, and if traveling sometimes throws off your regular bowel habits, it’s a good idea to take one while on the road.
A supplement can help make sure you are getting enough probiotics to maintain a healthy digestive tract. When choosing a probiotic supplement, avoid those that make blanket claims and choose one that lists the complicated names of the cultures, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus. You also want to make sure the label says the cultures are living (many brands do not have live cultures, which does you no good).
When you’re shopping for a probiotic supplement, there are different strains of bacteria that manage different conditions and you’ll also notice that dosing and recommended use varies among the brands, so take them according to the package directions.
Hot vitamin of the moment, vitamin D is blazing trails in the research world and gaining tons of media attention these days. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is famously known as the vitamin we can make from a little bit of sun exposure.
It’s a complicated vitamin because you hear about two forms: vitamin D2 is the form of vitamin D you get from eating fortified foods, and vitamin D3 is the kind we synthesize in our skin from sun or UV exposure.
Since the body makes this form of vitamin D, it is actually considered a hormone and not a vitamin. Vitamin D is responsible for regulating calcium and phosphorus in the body and lately we are learning more about the role of this amazing vitamin in our bodies such as being linked to insulin regulation, immunity, and even weight.
Both D2 and D3 can be converted to the active form in the blood, called 25-hydroxyvitamin D3.
Not everyone gets the sun exposure they need to make enough of this vitamin, especially during winter months and at higher latitudes, so I recommend getting it in through foods such as eggs and sardines, and fortified foods such as dairy.
If you’re concerned about your vitamin D status you may want to have it checked the next time you go to your MD.
A multi is pretty self-explanatory and the golden child of supplementing as “insurance.” A multivitamin is there to give your (hopefully) whole-foods based diet a boost and/or back up reserves.
I don’t want you taking a multi as a way to skimp on consuming your fruits and veggies, but I do want you taking one as a second line of defense. Unfortunately, four out of five people don’t get the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals through food alone.
I prefer a multivitamin that contains the nutrients we need but is not overloaded with more than we can even use. I also like a multivitamin that is vegan-friendly and uses veggie capsules that do not contain magnesium stearate.
Protein powders, like supplements in general, are highly polarizing! You have your whey peeps and you have your vegan protein powder peeps. You have your soy peeps and you have your soy-free peeps.
Here is my feeling: Keep it as clean as possible. We all know we get protein from foods like chicken, fish, beef, dairy, and plant sources like nuts and seeds. Even veggies have a little protein.
Many of us meet our protein needs, and many of us need a boost for convenience or to simply help us meet our needs. When we consume protein in the powder form, I want it clean. You don’t need more animal protein here. You don’t need a lot of added “junk.” Go vegan so you’re getting protein from plant sources, soy free (I’m not a fan of processed soy), and make sure you are not consuming a chocolate-chip-cookie worth of sugar!
If there is one food I talk about constantly it has to be…greens. I heart all greens. Green veggies are loaded with micronutrients, phytonutrients, and all kinds of antioxidants. They are low in calories while being high in water volume, fiber and of course nutrients.
I like my clients to get greens in at least twice a day. A green powder is a convenient way to get in the minimum needs and pack in extra for optimal health. I like a green powder blend to contain organic greens that are a mix of greens including sea veggies.
Some of us eat our seaweed, but it is definitely more difficult to get in than, say, spinach. I add a scoop of greens to a smoothie or even just mix with water.
Note: If you are on any meds for a medical condition, or your doc has prescribed a nutritional supplement, discuss any and all drug-nutrient interactions with your medical provider. A pharmacist is a great resource to go over drug interactions as well. Supplements can be harmful in large doses and/or interact with different medications you might be taking, so it is important to understand what you are taking and for what reason. More isn’t always better.