If you walk into a pharmacy or a health store, you've probably noticed that there are so many supplement options that you could easily bankrupt yourself buying them all! There are a dizzying array of options, leaving all of us wondering, “what supplements should I take?”
What Supplements Should I Take?
Sorting out the answer to this question starts with a different one: do you need to take supplements at all?
Who Needs Supplements?
Most healthy people eating a varied diet do NOT need to take supplements. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that people who fit this description can actually do themselves harm by taking too many supplements. However, there are definitely some people who need supplements. Some of those people include:
Perhaps the most vital nutrient for pregnant women is folic acid. Without folic acid, your baby is likely to suffer birth defects. You can get folic acid naturally from green leafy vegetables, and many grains and cereals have folic acid added. Nonetheless, lots of women will need to take a supplement (especially if you hate spinach). If your doctor says you're at risk of birth defects with your pregnancy, you should take even more.
Vitamin D is another important nutrient for pregnant women. Nearly everyone living in northern climates or who wears a lot of sunscreen year-round can be at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, but this is especially a concern for pregnant women. You can get Vitamin D from eggs, red meat, and oily fish: but most especially from the sun. If none of these is an option, supplements are your best bet.
As we age, our bodies become less efficient at metabolizing nutrients. In addition, our metabolisms themselves slow down as we age (as much as 20% between the ages of 30 and 70), meaning that we need less food. When we are eating less, it becomes even more important to ask ourselves, “what supplements should I take?”
Some of the most crucial supplements for the elderly include Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, fiber, Vitamin E, Omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols. All these nutrients can be found naturally in foods from bananas to steaks; green tea to almonds. But for those who are watching their weight as they age or struggling to metabolize nutrients efficiently, supplements can make all the difference.
Restricting certain things in the diet can be great for weight loss, but can affect your body's nutritional balance! Don't get us wrong: there are certain things anyone can leave out of diet without losing a thing: like sugar, trans fats, and refined white flour. But if you're cutting out meat, all carbs, or otherwise restricting your diet, you should be asking yourself “what supplements should I take to round out my dietary needs?”
Vegans, for example, need to make sure they're getting enough B Vitamins, protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids. These are all nutrients that humans absorb best when they get them from meats and fish, so it's important for vegans to get them from supplements.
If you're on a low-carb diet, you have less risk: but only as long as you're eating plenty of free-range eggs and grass-fed beef. The problem is that people who eat a lot of processed foods are actually getting most of their nutrition from fortification: i.e., vitamins and minerals sprayed on cereal grains and baked into your frozen pizza crust or breakfast cereal.
If you're not eating that stuff, but you also aren't eating lots of leafy greens and high-quality meats, fish, and eggs, then you'll need to supplement to get enough of the B Vitamins in particular. You might also need extra calcium, Vitamin E, and potassium.
Those With No Sun Exposure
Maybe you live in Seattle; maybe you live in Florida but wouldn't dream of setting foot outside the house without some sunscreen. Whatever your reason, you need to supplement with Vitamin D if you're not regularly exposing your skin to the sun.
Some animals are perfectly capable of getting Vitamin D from other sources, but we humans aren't some of those animals. We really need our sun exposure; but since we also don't need skin cancer, the best way to get it will be from oily fish, free-range eggs, and supplements.
Do you spend all your time at CrossFit? Are you lifting enormous weights at the gym four days a week? Are you wondering, “what supplements should I take to improve my performance?”
The number one supplement for the active lifestyle is protein. Your muscles simply cannot rebuild themselves without adequate protein, so if you're stinting them, you won't see the gains you're hoping for from your efforts. This is especially important if you're dieting while you try to build muscle.
If you're into exercises that involve more energetic bursts of energy, creatine supplements can help your body restore ATP, or energy resources, more quickly. You might also consider fish oil to keep away post-exercise inflammation.
Sicknesses range from simple colds to virulent flu, to life-threatening cancers. Whatever you might be fighting, your best bet is to talk to your doctor about what supplements are best for you. We can give you some general pointers, however.
If you want to ward off colds and flu, then getting plenty of Vitamins D, C, and the mineral zinc is your best bet. You also might benefit from salmon oil or other supplements rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. They help to regulate sleep and give the immune system a boost.
If you have an inflammatory disease, like arthritis or an auto-immune disease, then fish oil and resveratrol supplements may help to relieve inflammation. Whatever your illness, be sure to ask your doctor the question: “what supplements should I take?” and follow his or her advice.
Choosing Quality Supplements
If you're asking yourself “what supplements should I take?”, then part of your question will be “where can I find the best supplements?” If you tell anyone that you're interested in supplements, you're liable to get all kinds of advice. Your yoga partner's friend's sister will be only too happy to tell you about what she takes: but how can you make an informed decision for yourself?
Look for Additive-Free Versions
What supplements should I take? The ones that don't have a lot of unnecessary junk in them. Supplement makers often use stearic acid and other additives to speed up the manufacturing and production process: but that's nothing you need to be ingesting.
Choose Tested Supplements
The best supplements are the ones that have been tested in human clinical trials. This is the gold standard for supplements: nothing else can tell you so clearly whether or not a supplement will help.
Look for Transparency
Does the supplement provide details on where the ingredients came from? If you don't know the source, then you don't really know what you're ingesting; and that's the truth. If you're having fish oil, where did that fish come from? If you're thinking of vitamins and mineral supplements, are they co-enzymated? (That's what you want: these absorb much better than non-co-enzymated)
Buy from Manufacturers
Lots of supplement companies don't actually make their own supplements. Instead, they decide what they want to sell and then get a third party to manufacture it. What you want is a supplement sold by the very same people who make it. That way you know exactly who has control over the manufacturing process and know where to go if things aren't up to snuff.
Supplements are great: but you need to know why you're buying them, what you need, and which ones to take. Here are a few more things to think about when you find yourself wondering, “What supplements should I take?”
What's the Expiration Date?
Everything expires. That packet of cheese in the fridge. Your face cream. The dog's flea medication. Supplements expire, too, so be sure to pay attention to those dates when you buy.
Guess what? Buying in bulk doesn't help you if the supplements expire before you have a chance to take them all. Buy only the quantity you'll actually need and always make sure you aren't being sold old stuff.
Only Use What Helps You
Here's a practical example: multivitamins for pre-menopausal women typically contain a lot more iron than multivitamins for men or post-menopausal women. Why? Because younger women shed enormous quantities of iron during their menstrual cycles.
If men took the quantities of iron in a women's multivitamin, they would overdose fairly quickly. You need to know what you need before you start popping pills.
Talk to Your Doctor
It's never a good idea to use supplements without asking a health care professional about what you need and what they recommend. There are lots of reasons for this; one is that the doctor may be aware of how supplements and medications interact with each other in unpleasant ways.
Supplements can be hugely beneficial. They can also cause problems if you don't take the right ones or take them in the wrong quantities or in conjunction with the wrong medications. Talk to your doctor, know what you're taking, and then get all the benefits of the supplements you deserve.
Featured Image: Image via Pexels