When individuals enter the world of improved nutrition, health, and fitness one of the common things they will ask about are supplements. Supplements should compliment a high quality, majority whole food diet that naturally contains a variety of nutrients, and not become a staple or crutch.
There is no regulation with supplements, so there are concerns about ingredients, quality, and contaminants. To help with reassurance there are a few things to look for on a bottle so that you have more confidence in the ingredients, and in the quality control that goes into making that given product. Look for the GMP sticker (Good Manufacturing Practices), or check Consumers Reports, or ConsumerLab to see if a given supplement has been tested and approved. In the U.S. look for the USP sticker (United States Pharmacopeia) sticker, or see if the product is listed on their website. This ensures that the product ingredients/quantities on the label are accurate.
There are 4 supplements which many individuals may find some benefit from for general health and nutrition. These 4 supplements may help fill in some of the gaps that many individuals lack in their diet, especially when first transitioning to healthier eating habits.
1. Multivitamin/mineral: Ideally a whole food based multivitamin/mineral. Simply take the recommended dosage daily, or save it for days where your intake of colorful fruits/veggies and other whole foods were lacking. This is an inexpensive supplement that can help sure up any micronutrient gaps in your diet. Especially important for those who follow restrictive diets such as keto, vegan, carnivore, etc.
2. Fish Oil: Fish oil has been shown to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Most individuals in the U.S. don’t eat a high amount of seafood in their diet, especially if they don’t live on the coast. You want a product that is high in EPA and DHA as these are the Omega 3’s that appear to have the most benefits. Shoot for 1-3g of combined EPA/DHA which will normally land you in the range of 3-9g of total fish oil depending on the concentration. Fish oil does have the risk of oxidizing when exposed to light or heat, so get something in a dark container and store it in the fridge or freezer (this also cuts down on “fish burps”). If you are following a Vegan diet you can opt for Algae oil instead and will only need 1-2g/day. If you are allergic to fish/seafood, on blood thinners, scheduled for surgery, or have a bleeding disorder you should refrain from taking fish oil, or talk to your doctor first.
3. Probiotics: Probiotics help to restore proper gut microbiome that is often compromised in the standard American diet due to medications (particularly antibiotics), stress, and poor diet (especially high sugar, alcohol, overeating, and low fiber). Improving the GI tract with probiotics could lead to better gut health and immunity. Improved bacterial health seems to improve overall health, metabolism, immunity, digestion, body composition, and may even help alleviate some inflammatory conditions. Gut bacteria have a multitude of functions. These include helping us digest and absorb nutrients, produce nutrients for us, keeping the system moving, keeping harmful bacteria and other pathogens from settling in and growing, helping metabolize medications and plant chemicals, synthesizing polyamines, produce cytokines, regulate secretion and use of intestinal mucus, and help regulate blood flow to the internal organs (viscera). Probiotics can be helpful to optimize or correct a poor gut microbiome. Look for a high CFU (colony forming units), which indicates how many live microbes the probiotic contains. Take up to double the recommended dose on the label, or 1–2 capsules with every meal. Those with highly compromised immune systems may want to talk to their doctor before taking a probiotic.
4. Protein Powder: Eating lean protein at every meal (1-2 palm sized portions, 3-6 total daily) is one of our foundational Nutrition habits. For many people this is a challenging habit. Having a high quality, low calorie protein supplement on hand that can be drunk alone, in a smoothie, mixed with yogurt or oatmeal, etc. can make this much easier for a lot of individuals. Look for a product that has 20-25g of protein per 100-130 calories, and doesn’t have any sugar or added fat on the ingredients list. Individuals under 160lbs take 1 serving anytime you don’t have access to a whole food lean protein source at a meal, and those over 160lbs take 2 servings. Whey protein is the gold standard and the most researched. However for some with dairy sensitivity this may cause GI issues. In that case opt for an animal based protein source such as Beef or egg isolate. For vegans opt for pea, rice, hemp, or pumpkin seed (pea seeming to be the best at this point). In general avoid soy proteins as they can increase estrogen levels which may increase body fat storage or increase cancer risk, though there is still some debate on this.