If you’ve walked down a vitamin and supplement aisle at the drugstore lately, you know the choices are pretty overwhelming.
Supplement sales in the U.S. are over $11 billion annually, but are they actually worth it? Some people would prefer to skip them altogether, saying they’ll take their chances eating healthy and hoping their needs are met that way. Others are always looking for the supplement-of-the-month to add to their collection. Realistically, the optimal approach is somewhere in between those two.
It would be wonderful to get all of our nutrients from our diets, and including a variety of fruits and vegetables can help. However, most of us don’t eat enough to meet all our needs on a regular basis. Recent studies show that the fruits and vegetables we get today are not as nutrient packed as the ones our grandparents ate due to soil depletion. And most of us don’t eat solely to replenish vitamins — we eat what we enjoy. Adding a few basic vitamins and supplements can be a great way to round out your diet.
A few tips for choosing the basics:
1. A multivitamin.
Deciding on a multivitamin from the myriad of choices can be daunting. A few good things to look for are vitamins from whole food based sources, and generally this will mean one serving is more than one tablet. There are multis customized by gender, age, activities, joint health — ad nauseum. The major difference you will see in vitamins geared for men is less iron (since men’s iron needs are lower than those of pre-menopausal women) and occasionally the addition of herbs that are thought to promote prostate health, such as saw palmetto. All multivitamins should give you a breakdown of the amount per capsule in relationship to the recommended daily allowance of each vitamin and mineral. It’s rare to see the daily allowance met for vitamin C in a multivitamin, but that’s easily made up by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Most multivitamins will also not meet 100% of your day’s calcium needs, so if you know it’s lacking in your diet, it’s worth adding some more.
2. Flaxseed oil or Fish oil.
This is another great basic health addition, and it is usually fairly easy to find and inexpensive. I mention both options, as vegetarians would generally prefer the flaxseed, and some people find that fish oil makes them burp up a fishy aftertaste. With either choice, you are adding omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with both heart and joint health, as well as improving our moods. As with anything else, mega-dosing of flaxseed or fish oil isn’t necessarily more helpful. One to two capsules per day is the general recommendation, unless your health care provider has recommended otherwise.
3. Extra Bs
There are all sorts of “stress tabs” and B complex vitamin supplements out there. If you have been under physical or mental stress, it’s worth adding an extra B-complex supplement. Other health habits can also interfere with our bodies absorption and use of B vitamins; if you are a smoker, it’s harder for your body to metabolize and retain vitamin B12, a vitamin that (among other things) has a large impact on our energy levels and mood. Also, vegans and strict vegetarians will usually need to supplement vitamin B12, as it is only present in animal products, and it is not a vitamin our body can synthesize separately.
While many people think of women needing to supplement calcium due to elevated risks of osteoporosis, men need calcium as well. The RDA for adult men is 1000 mg per day, and this is not something you want to exceed on a regular basis. While there is no need to obsess about it, extra calcium can lead to kidney stones in some people. If you know you eat several servings of dairy a day, you may not need to supplement. If you do choose calcium supplements, it’s best to choose ones that contain Vitamin D as well, as it is needed for our bodies to process the calcium.
This is a mineral we don’t hear quite as much about, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. The National Institutes of Health research shows that about 68% of Americans are magnesium deficient. Many of our health habits (sugar, coffee—and sometimes necessary things like prescription medications) can interfere with our absorption and use of magnesium and leave us depleted. Among other things, magnesium is necessary to help the calcium in our bodies do its job. It’s also a great go-to supplement when you have overworked muscles and can’t relax at night. A basic magnesium supplement is 200 – 400 milligrams in capsule form; another way to go is a dis-solvable magnesium supplement such as Cal-Mag or Natural Calm (my personal favorite for nights after I’ve overdone it at yoga).
Before adding anything new, it’s important to consider your personal health needs, any medications you are on, and to ask a doctor before making any major changes.
Tomorrow: Herbs and Holistic Cold Remedies.
Photo Credit: Healing and Eating/Flickr