If you watch TV during the evening news hour, you see dozens of commercials for medications. Along with medications, you see commercials for supplements, especially multivitamins, but also things like fish oil. Have you ever thought, “I should take a multivitamin,” and then just felt completely overwhelmed by all the options on the store shelf? How do you choose the right supplements?
Before we answer that second question, let’s talk about whether you even need supplements. Supplements are intended to add further nutritional value to the diet. What if you are already eating in a nutritious way? Do you need supplements? My answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why:
- Our soil and food sources are very depleted in vitamins and minerals. It is hard to get all the nutrients you need from food. Here’s a statistic to give you some perspective: you would currently have to eat 10 servings of spinach to get the same amount of nutrients as you would have gotten from 1 serving 50 years ago.
- Our bodies require more vitamins and minerals now. The changes in our lifestyles and in our environment have changed what we actually need.
- Common medications deplete many vitamins and minerals. Statins, antibiotics, and oral contraceptives are just a few of the common medications that will deplete key vitamins and minerals.
- Many of our diet and lifestyle choices deplete our vitamins and minerals. Eating sugar, experiencing stress, and over-exercising are a few of the diet and lifestyle choices that deplete vitamins and minerals.
With that established, let’s go next to what supplements should you be taking? If you are just looking to add needed vitamins and minerals to support your overall health (rather than addressing a specific health problem), I recommend eight supplements.
- Omega 3
- Vitamin D with Vitamin K
- B complex
- Magnesium Glycinate (but if you are constipated you should take Magnesium Citrate instead)
- Bone broth
- Fermented foods
You’ll notice the last two there are not actually going to come in a pill form. To take a dose of bone broth, you really just need to eat (or drink) bone broth, and the same is true of fermented foods. Additionally you can get probiotics (number 6) from food, even some of the same fermented foods like kefir and sauerkraut, or you can supplement with a pill.
But let’s look at those supplements that will come in a pill form. With all of these, there are so many choices on the market. When you are walking through the aisle, how do you choose a good supplement?
Five Steps to Choosing a Supplement
Step 1: Have a plan
Consider your needs. What medications might be depleting vitamins and which vitamins do you need more of? Consider your lifestyle and what needs that may create.
Step 2: Consult with your doctor
Consult with your doctor about what vitamins or minerals you may need to supplement. This could be because a blood test shows that you are low in those vitamins or minerals, but you can also talk to them about what your current prescription medications are known to deplete. Ask them also about interactions with any prescription medications you are taking. Make sure that all your doctors know what supplements you are taking, especially before any medical procedures.
Step 3: Read the “Other Ingredients” part of the label first
Under the “other ingredients” part of the label is all the extra stuff that is added to the pill. These are things that add color, add bulk, and make it shelf-stable for a very long time. While shelf-stable isn’t bad, a lot of the ingredients that are added here are things that you want to avoid.
The Short List of What to Avoid:
- Hydrogenated oils
- Artificial flavors or natural flavors
- Sugar, and all other sweeteners including all artificial sweeteners
- Cellulose, in all it’s forms
- Dyes — including Red 40, Blue 1 or 2, and Yellow 5 or 6
Look for a short “Other Ingredients” list and avoid these additives.
Step 4: Read the Ingredients
The ingredients list the main components of the supplement. These should be the actual vitamins and minerals that you are trying to consume. Look for whether the vitamins and minerals you want are present in the supplement and what amounts they are in. The label will always list a measurement amount (like milligrams) and calculate that amount as a percentage of the Daily Value or DV (a number calculated by the FDA). Read both numbers. One thing you may be surprised by is how common it is to see 200% of the DV for Vitamin C, but only 6% of the DV for Vitamin D in a multivitamin. Look for numbers that actually match your supplementation goals.
The other thing to consider is that the DV (Daily Value) is just like percentages on food labels. Food labels are calculated based on a man eating 2000 calories. DV is also calculated based on an average-sized male. Your needs might be different.
Step 5: Add supplements one at a time
The goal with supplements is to improve your health. If you add a whole handful at once, you won’t notice what is causing any particular reaction.
Instead, add supplements one at a time. Give the supplement a few weeks to take effect, and then listen to your body. Do you feel different? Do you feel better? What has improved?
Supplements can add nutritional value to our diet and can be a wonderful addition when we are eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle. But there are some cautions to be aware of and we need to focus on small changes. Consult with your doctor and add one supplement at a time to support your health.