No matter what client population you work with, I will bet that the topic of supplements has come up. You’ve probably been asked a few questions, such as “Which ones should I take?”, “What is the best brand to buy?”, or “Are supplements even necessary?”
These are all valid questions, and ones I’m sure we, ourselves, have asked about supplements at one time or another. When talking about supplements with our clients, patients, family, or friends, it’s important to emphasize that supplements will never outweigh a poor diet and that food always should be first in line to manage health. However, certain supplements can complement any diet to help ensure the body is getting what it needs for optimal health.
Some reasons why strategic supplementation may be indicated for our clients and patients include the following:
- GI ailments that impair nutrient digestion and absorption;
- inadequate nutrient intake from diet;
- genetic variants that enhance the need for certain nutrients;
- taking medications that can interfere with the usability of nutrients;
- increased nutrient needs based on activity level or unique life stage (eg, athletes or pregnant women); and
- desires to achieve a specific health goal.
With that said, here are three supplements evidence suggests nearly everyone can benefit from taking, regardless of how healthfully they may already eat. (Information about what constitutes “high-quality” can be found in the “Selecting High-Quality Supplements” section of this blog.)
1. High-quality multivitamin: Many people may not be eating as well as they think they are, and the truth is that it can be very difficult to reach adequate levels of all of the essential nutrients each day. In addition, due to many farming practices and the demand for food, many fruits and vegetables aren’t as nutritious as they once were. Therefore, supplementing with a multivitamin can help meet needs. The multivitamin should contain a mixture of the minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc; the antioxidants vitamins E and C and selenium; and all of the B vitamins. These micronutrients help support daily bodily functions that must occur for optimal health.
Tip: The nutrients folate and vitamin B12 ideally should be in their methylated form (look for methylfolate for folate and methylcobalamin for vitamin B12) for better absorption and utilization in the body.
2. High-quality omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fats have so many health benefits, including improving insulin sensitivity, supporting heart health by lowering triglyceride levels, boosting nerve function, and reducing inflammation. Most people don’t eat enough fish or other natural omega-3 fat sources, so it’s easy to fall short in intake or simply not reap the benefits of higher doses.
Tip: Advise your clients or patients to consume omega-3s from a mixture of EPA and DHA , which can be sourced from fish, krill oil, and algae.
3. Multistrain probiotic: About 80% of the immune system is located in the gut, and up to 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate mood, is produced in the gut. Evidence continues to emerge showing that poor gut function, including an imbalance of gut bacteria, or microbiome, can have harmful effects on the body, possibly leading to a whole host of problems including autoimmunity, depression, anxiety, digestive ailments, and even obesity.
Explain to your clients that taking a probiotic every day may help keep their gut bacteria in balance, which can help promote a strong immune system, relieve digestive discomfort, promote proper mental functioning, and support overall wellness. However, be sure to note that the science isn’t definitive on the benefits of probiotics.
Tip: Since each strain of helpful bacteria serves unique purposes, advise individuals to purchase brands that contain a minimum of five or more strains to help cover many bases.
Selecting High-Quality Supplements
As RDs know, supplements aren’t well regulated by the FDA. Therefore, there are hundreds of companies out there manufacturing supplements that either don’t contain what they claim they do or contain a form of the ingredient the body can’t use, essentially making them useless. Some supplements are even contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic materials. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste my money on products that don’t work or are dangerous, or have my clients do so either. Therefore, advise clients to purchase supplements from a reputable brand that uses safe ingredients and certifies its potency and quality. Some labels to look for on supplement bottles that indicate voluntary third-party purity verification include US Pharmacopeia and ConsumerLab.com seals.
— Joanna Foley, RD, CLT, has been practicing as a dietitian for more than five years and is the owner of a private nutrition counseling practice at www.joannafoleynutrition.com. Joanna believes that food really is the best medicine and that we all have the power within us to create the healthiest versions of ourselves. Joanna is also passionate about helping others transform their relationship with food and create positive eating environments.