Nutrition

Supplements 101: What Vitamins You Need and How to Shop

We always recommend that you get your nourishment from real foods, but there are certain situations in which supplements can be helpful, including deficiency, disease, or if you’re simply not able to get the proper nutrients you need from food.

If you’re following the 8fit meal plan or something like it – rich in plant-based foods, high in protein, with plenty of healthy fats – supplements might be a waste of money. If you don’t eat a variety of nutritious foods, some supplements might help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients, so it could be worth looking into.

That said, some supplements can be dangerous when taken in excess, when combined with medications, or due to the way they are processed. Some vitamins and minerals are more dangerous than others – the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and minerals iron and selenium can build up in the body and become toxic, for example. So, don’t decide to take dietary supplements to treat a health condition or deficiency that you have diagnosed yourself without first consulting your doctor.

salad-olive-oil-healthy-green

Selective shopping

If you have chatted with your doc and you’ve decided to supplement your diet, be critical when choosing supplements; more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. You might be surprised to learn that dietary supplements sold in the United States don’t have to be registered with any government agency, so anyone can produce and sell a supplement. That means there’s a lot of leeway in how they’re manufactured, what ingredients are used, and how products will be labeled. When looking for a supplement, after speaking with your physician, hit the vitamin aisle with a critical eye to help determine if the product is tailored to your needs – such as being free of allergens and a price you can afford – and one that’s likely to be effective.

What to look for

Most vitamins and minerals are synthetic. The nutrients are still the same and they contain the same elements, but the structure is slightly different which means that the supplement you are getting may not even be a form that your body can absorb. Many people argue that the small difference has little impact, but research has shown that the way your body absorbs the nutrients may vary. Nutrients found in natural sources contain cofactors, enzymes, and phytonutrients that provide a synergistic effect, helping your body absorb the nutrients more effectively.

Supplements can also contain many sneaky ingredients including binders, fillers, colorants, sweeteners, favoring and coatings, which are added and not always identified on the label. These extras can cause reactions including sensitivity, stomach upset, or allergic reactions so keep a close eye on the ingredient list and do your research before buying.

Here is our list of supplements that are safe to take (if needed):

Omega-3

  • Take if your diet is not high in fish, seafood, grass-fed meats, flax, chia and walnuts.
  • Important for cardiovascular health, eye and brain development.
  • Avoid those that smell or taste fishy, or have strong flavoring – this is most likely the manufacturer covering up rancid oils.

chocolate-coconut-chia-bar-healthy-food-recipe

Probiotic

  • Take if your diet is not high in fermented veggies, yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, etc.
  • Good for gut health and the immune system.
  • Aim for a variety of bacteria which includes acidophilus and bifidus.

Protein powder

  • Take if you struggle to get protein with your meals.
  • Important for blood sugar regulation, muscle building, and immunity.
  • Aim for a minimal ingredient list that doesn’t include added sugar.

Multivitamins

  • Take if you are very stressed, have a poor or limited diet, or are restricting whole foods groups such as with vegan or keto.
  • Important for overall health and wellness.
  • Look for natural ingredients and have one per day unless your physician or medical practitioner advises otherwise.

Vitamin D

  • Take if you are not exposed to the sunlight regularly.
  • Supports bones, immune system, nervous system and brain.
  • Aim for vitamin D3, which our bodies absorb and use better –  it’s also more effective at preventing diseases.

Magnesium

  • Take if you workout regularly or experience PMS cramps it can help you relieve muscle ache.
  • Calms nerves and anxiety, helps with sleep.
  • Magnesium has a laxative effect so be careful with taking too much. It should help keep the pipes moving, if you catch my drift, but not cause discomfort or diarrhea.

Following a vegan diet? Check out our article on important nutrients and supplements for a vegan diet plan.

Bottom line

Remember that no supplement replaces high quality food. As always, we recommend speaking to your primary physician before starting any new exercise routine, nutrition plan or supplement regime.