A visit to the health food store can be an experience. It is tough to choose from among the huge variety dietary and nutritional supplements on the shelf. From vitamins to minerals to weight loss pills, there are thousands of options to choose from. But ....
do you really need any of them? Do they really work, and if so, which ones are best?
Who really needs dietary supplements?
It's important to remember that dietary supplements are designed to supplement your diet, not to replace nutritious foods. Supplements are intended to enhance a diet where there are shortfalls. But really foods are more complex, offering not only vitamins and minerals, but fiber, nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), phytochemicals, and a whole host of nutritious substances that science has not fully identified that work together with other foods and provide the benefits of a healthy eating pattern.
Thus why we really do not recommend any sort of food supplement if you think your food habits already incorporate all necessary nutrients for your body. However, scientists agree that some people may require supplements because the proteins, vitamins and/or minerals they need are hard to get in adequate amounts in the diet. These groups might include: pregnant women, nursing mothers, strict vegetarians, people with food allergies or intolerances, elderly people or those with diseases such as cancer, or kidney, cardiovascular, or bone disease. We could also add those people who for whatever reason think their diet or food habits have been restricted or compromised, such as people under strict weight loss programs, long term world travelers or people who live under extreme poverty conditions. Furthermore professional or elite sport people or taking extreme fitness programs might require some sort of dietary supplements to help or compensate burnt calories or muscle growing.
Tips for choosing the right dietary supplements
Experts agree there are some rules for choosing the right dietary and nutritional supplements.
- First, better to look for trusted brands that have been around for some time.
- Second, read the claims carefully. If they look too good to be true, they probably are not so good.
- Third, if you want to take it a step further, check out the studies companies site documenting the effectiveness of the product.
- Last but not least, dietary supplements are mainly prescribed for healthy adults. it is recommended to consult with your doctor before taking any dietary supplements, specially if you suffer from any disease, deficiency or pathology. Tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking, even if they are natural extracts. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with medications.
Our 5 supplement picks
Here we introduce our best picks. Unless otherwise noticed these are all obtained from natural resources.
Multivitamins are essential nutrients necessary for thousands of metabolic reactions. Taking a daily multivitamin with minerals has long been considered nutritional "insurance" to cover dietary shortfalls. There is no harm in taking a once-daily multivitamin, as long as you select one based on your age and sex. Take it daily or just on days when your diet is inadequate. But better than a multivitamin is to fill in the gaps, do not forget that real food offers so much more than supplements.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body, necessary for bones, correct heartbeating, nerve impulses, clotting blood and stimulating hormone secretions. Your body does not make calcium, and in fact loses calcium daily through your skin, nails, hair, sweat and elimination, which is why you must replace it via your diet. Calcium is one of the minerals most often lacking in Americans' diets. We recommend you to take calcium directly from food such as dairy products, fortified foods, dark leafy greens, soybeans, beans, fish, and raisins. Dietary Guidelines recommends three servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy each day to help bridge this gap. But there are plenty of people who reject dairy, the best source of calcium in our diets. If you have not been diagnosed as lactose-intolerant, better give dairy a chance. Start slowly, with a small amount with meals, or try dairy products that are lower in lactose, such as aged cheeses and yogurt. If you are worried about calories, you can go for low calorie dairy or other milk substitute such as soy milk enriched in calcium. If your choice is to take a calcium supplement, look for calcium citrate or lactate. These forms are best absorbed by the body. Also take it with caution because it might have some side effects or interact with other medicines. Talk to a doctor before using Calcium supplements.
Coffee (great sport stimulant)
Special mention to products that contain stimulants like caffeine since they have been shown to be a performance enhancer. You should make of coffee, green tea or other caffeinated drinks a part of your healthy diet and fitness routine (please read our coffee blog). Caffeine drinks are also lipolytic, "you are actually burning calories as you drink". You can get the same boost from a cup of coffee or any safe caffeinated drink. Notice that some caffeinated supplements might contain some ingredients that could be potentially risky. Also keep in mind that drinking excessive amount of caffeine might be dangerous for your health.
Fish oil (omega-3)
Studies show that fish oil (source of omega-3 fatty acids) may be cardio-protective. Furthermore, fish oils can lower cholesterol. But always choose a fresh fish if you have a choice. If you don't like fatty fish such as salmon, you can eat other kinds of fish such as canned tuna. Just be sure to avoid any fish that is breaded and fried. Foods such as canola oil, soybeans, flax, walnuts and algae are also natural sources of omega-3s, but they are not a substitute for fatty fish. Perhaps because of a heightened fear of mercury levels in all types of fish, people are not coming close to getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. We recommend fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids supplements if you do not meet the expert recommendations for fatty fish at least twice a week or much better you can take fish oil supplement only during those days you do not eat any fish.
Most carnitine comes from the liver and kidneys, but you also get some from food specially from animal products. Red meat has the highest levels. Carnitine is also found in smaller amounts in chicken, milk and dairy products, fish, beans, and avocado. Carnitine helps make energy in your body. People take carnitine supplements for athletic performance and weight loss (metabolism booster), heart disease, memory problems, and other issues. Most supplements contain one type of carnitine called L-carnitine. It is the same type present in the food. While carnitine is needed for good health, you probably have all that you need. People with genetic problems and some diseases, as well as premature babies, may have low levels. L-carnitine supplements may help them. L-carnitine is a popular supplement for athletes and fat loss programs. However, studies have not found clear evidence that it helps to improve sports performance, endurance or weight loss. However, L-carnitine supplements do seem to help with heart disease and other heart problems. L-carnitine supplements may also help with thyroid problems, male infertility, memory problems in older people, chemotherapy side effects, and type 2 diabetes. We need more research to know for sure, though. If your choice is to have it you should take it with caution because it might have some potential side effects, risks and interactions with other medicines such as antibiotics. Talk to a doctor before using L-carnitine.
Caution with megadoses
If you decide to take dietary supplements you should respect the printed recommended doses or doctor advice. However, many consumers go way beyond the daily multivitamin recommendations, and take megadoses because they think it is harmless. Contrary to what you might think, exceeding the Recommended Daily Allowances for some vitamins and minerals could be dangerous. Generally speaking, you should not exceed 100% of the recommendation for vitamins or minerals because these supplements are in addition to the food you eat, and potential toxicities may occur. Be especially careful with minerals and-fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which can build up in your system thus potentially representing a risk for your health .
First edition: 01/02/2015
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