I get this question all. the. time. "What supplements do you recommend?", or "Should I be taking... [insert popular pill, powder or unicorn poop here]." And the truth is, unless I'm your personal nutrition coach... I probably can't give you the exact answer you want. However-- I CAN tell you how to determine if a certain supplement is right for you, and guide you to some supplements that I think could be beneficial to you and your family on your healthy living journey. So today, I'll talk about whether or not you should supplement. In my next post, I'll share my top supplements I think EVERY adult should be taking, and in my last post, I'll share some supplements that I've found to be really effective in making progress with your health and fitness goals. Ready? Let's dig in.
Before I begin- and this should go without saying- I am not a doctor. This information is provided as general advice only and should not be taken as a replacement for professional medical advice. Therefore any choices you make regarding your health or any changes in medical conditions should be discussed explicitly with your doctor.
Supplements. Such a broad category for such a wide variety of good (and not so good) additions to our diet. The FDA defines dietary supplements as "a product intended for ingestion that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet." (source). The word supplement itself is defined as "something that completes or enhances something else when added to it." Notice that language- completes or enhances. The problem with supplements today, is they are so prevalent, their use is both often undervalued (often in the case of enhancing health) and overused (in the case of supplements making radical claims like quick weight loss or curing cancer).
I like to take a moderate approach to supplementation. I absolutely, without a doubt believe certain well-regulated supplements are both useful and often necessary-- to complete or enhance an otherwise lacking diet. However, I do not sit in the camp that vitamins, minerals, amino acids or fairy dust are going to solve all your problems. These healthy additions to our diet should be just that- supplements to our good daily nutrition, not band-aids for bigger problems. We start with whole foods, and fill in the gaps with supplements. Healthy diet comes first-- supplements come second.
So how do you know if you need to supplement, and how do you determine which supplements are a better option? Here are some Do's and Don'ts of supplementing for women.
DO ensure you have a healthy, balanced diet before adding anything to your routine (yes, even a multivitamin). Check out 21 Days to Clean Lean Living for an email-based program complete with meal plan and recipes to learn how to eat clean and live lean.
DO get regular tests by your doctor or health care practitioner to determine if you are lacking in certain vitamins and minerals or are suffering from a health condition such as high blood pressure or pre-diabetes (supplements may help or hinder these and similar conditions).
DON'T take a supplement simply because it 'looks good' or makes certain claims on the label. Grandiose claims rarely lead to good results.
DO Contact your doctor or pharmacist if you are on any medications to determine if there may be an interaction.
DO focus on nutrition and exercise as your main focus when losing weight or gaining muscle. A pill, powder or mega popular shake blend will NOT work without proper dietary and movement strategies. I can't stress this one enough!
DON'T start taking anything new if you are pregnant or breastfeeding without your doctor or nutritionist's consent. Always consult with your doctor or nutritionist before taking any supplements especially during this crucial time in your baby's development.
DO consider supplementation if you do not eat 3 or more regular, full-sized whole food based meals per day. You may be lacking in crucial vitamins and minerals. DO consider supplementation if you have omitted an entire food group, such as in vegans and other similar restrictive diets. You may be lacking in essential vitamins and minerals such as Iron and B12. DON'T cheap out. You wouldn't put cheap gas in your car-- don't settle for low quality vitamins. Cheap vitamins = expensive pee. Look for supplements from reputable brands that are third-party tested for quality and safety, and especially those recommended by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
DO your research. If you think a certain supplement is right for you, check in with your healthcare practitioner and do some research. The NIH has a great database of vitamins and minerals that provides a wealth of information as well as links to scientific studies backing up claims. Look into the research on benefits as well as side effects before deciding to take a supplement for a certain purpose.
DO choose whole food based supplements. Whole-food based supplements are inherently more bioavailable. The body recognizes food before it recognizes chemicals. A high bioavailability means better and more efficient absorption- getting 'more for your money' so to speak. DO avoid cheap fillers and additives such as maltodextrin, dextrose, stearic acid/magnesium stearate, titanium dioxide, hydrogenated oils and artificial colors. The purer supplement is always the safer supplement. DO take one new supplement a time to judge your body's reaction, any side effects and benefits to taking the supplement before adding anything new to your routine.
DO remember: supplements are NOT necessary. And they're NOT a replacement for a good quality, healthy diet. You should be able to get everything you need from a healthy, balanced diet. But some of us just can't. And some of us have gone so long, we need a little extra boost. That's ok. Do your research. Choose quality over quantity. Take one at a time and decide if it's working before throwing in the towel or trying something new.
Have questions? Post them in the comments below! And stay tuned for the supplements I recommend, later this week.