I recently took an online nutrition course with RD Keri Glassman, and one of her lessons was on nutritional supplements. Supplements are a hot topic – some think they are completely unnecessary and downright unhealthy and that they have no place in a healthy diet. Others think that EVERYONE should be taking supplements and that without them you cannot live your healthiest life. The truth is, a lot of the time people are consuming way too many supplements that may be doing more harm than good. On the other hand, sometimes supplements are appropriate and can help correct nutritional deficiencies (when under the care of a dietitian and/or physician). I’m here to break it down and share some of Keri’s tips when choosing a nutrition supplement that is right for you! I will also share the most common nutritional supplements that people would benefit from taking
3 Tips When Considering a Supplement
Tip #1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Supplements can be tricky because the FDA does not regulate supplements like it does food. For this reason, sometimes supplements do not contain the actual ingredients that they state on their label. When choosing a supplement, it is up to you as the consumer to do some research and choose brands that you trust. It helps to go for a bigger company with a good reputation because those companies likely do research and development to police their own products.
Look for a supplement with the GMP seal on the label. This ensures good manufacturing practices. Also try to choose a supplement without added fillers or colors / dyes.
Tip #2: LISTEN TO A PROFESSIONAL
Make sure with your doctor or dietitian that you do in fact need supplementation and confirm that you are not on any medications that will adversely react with the supplements you wish to take. Taking a supplement when you do not in fact need it can cause you to get too much of certain nutrient and can lead to adverse health outcomes.
Tip #3: CHOOSE FOOD FIRST
You can absolutely get too much of a nutrient from supplementation. However, when you consume your nutrients from food, it is nearly impossible to overdose (with the exception of consuming a whole bag of brazil nuts because those are loaded with selenium! Stick to a few brazil nuts per day for your selenium requirements). Food also contains different nutrients that act in concert with each other to help you better absorb the nutrients. For example, Avocado contains vitamin E, and it also contains healthy fats. The fat in avocado helps your body absorb the vitamin E, as vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin. Fruits and vegetables also contain phytochemicals and antioxidants which are beneficial for our health. For these reasons, it’s always better to get your nutrients from food. That being said, sometimes it just isn’t possible to get enough of certain nutrients from food, and in this case, supplements can be helpful.
Common Beneficial Supplements
There are a few supplements that most people would benefit from incorporating into their daily routines.
Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that may help fight off harmful, pathogenic bacteria (the kinds that cause GI disease and discomfort) in our guts. They may help in relieving GI symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. Probiotics can be found in foods such as yogurt and fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha), but are sometimes killed off in the pasteurization process, so taking a supplement ensures that you are getting the real deal. Adding probiotics into your routine may help to improve your digestive health, immunity, and even your mood!
- Vitamin D
The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in the United States is estimated to be at 41.6% according to the NIH. That’s a heck of a lot of people! Those of us who live in areas that don’t receive sunshine year-round are at greater risk. Also, with rising rates of skin cancer, use of daily SPF has become popular, which is wonderful, but it increases our risk of vitamin D deficiency. By the way, I think you should wear your sunscreen- you just might want to consider a vitamin D supplement. Additionally, as we age, our skin becomes less efficient at converting cholesterol to vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, so older adults tend to be vitamin D deficient. For these reasons, many people would benefit from a vitamin D supplement. That being said, please take your supplements under the care of a physician or dietitian who is looking at your bloodwork to A) make sure you need supplementation in the first place and B) make sure you are taking an appropriate dosage for an appropriate time period.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most people do not consume enough fish, so they may not be getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. Fatty fish like salmon, herring, and anchovies is an excellent source of omega-3s, which help to maintain our immune health, support healthy brain function, and fight inflammation in the body. They also help to lower blood pressure. There are plant sources of omega-3s (flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts), but fish provides our body with the most easily absorbable form of the essential fatty acids. Those who do not like fish, those who do not consume it on a weekly basis, those who do not consume fish for environmental reasons, and vegans / vegetarians may be at increased risk for omega-3 deficiency. If you fall into any of these categories, you may want to consider taking a supplement.