Supplements - My Top 5 Recommendations

supplements graphic.png

I get many questions about supplements from my readers and clients on a weekly basis. With a supplement industry contributing $122 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016, it’s no wonder why I get so many questions about it. Supplements are easily available everywhere, there's hundreds of companies and brands to choose from, they’re associated with good health and we all know someone who uses them, right? Chances are you’ve taken supplements at some point in your life, too.

Someone asked me recently: “If I want to take 5 supplements a day, which ones are most important?”

I know others may have similar questions, so I’m turning it into a blog post today to answer some supplement questions!

Let me be honest and upfront with you:  I am not a huge proponent of supplements in general. I believe that we should obtain and utilize the highest amounts of nutrients from whole foods in the diet. No supplement will ever replicate what a whole foods diet does for the body. Period. Supplement companies will try to argue otherwise, but nothing comes close to the food we eat everyday in terms of delivering high quality nutrients. There are a few other points I like to highlight when it comes to supplements and why I don’t always jump to supplements as a key to health…

False sense of security - Supplements give people a false sense of health. Take multivitamins for example. Many people take a multivitamin to aim at reducing any nutrient deficiencies and think of it as sort of an “insurance policy”. But it we take a deep dive and examine over ninety percent of the supplements on shelves, we find a bunch of cheap, water-soluble vitamins that are easily found in most foods that most people are not deficient of anyway. Magnesium and vitamin D for example are two nutrients that most of the population is deficient of. However, take a close look at the back of your multivitamin label and you’ll see hardly any magnesium at all and very little vitamin D. Magnesium is virtually void from all multivitamins because it would mean you’d have to take A LOT of pills to get even a reasonable dose, and most people aren’t up for that that everyday. What you will find plenty of is the B vitamins, which are very cheaply added to multivitamins and most people get plenty of from other foods. It’s the vitamins that are hard to find in foods like vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium that should really be in high amounts in multivitamins. A multivitamin is not a great way to ensure you’re getting a lot of nutrients. One multivitamin brand I do recommend that has a great balance of nutrients working synergistically is Nutrience by Calton Nutrition.

Overuse - Supplementation can be easily overdone. There is a dose-responsive reaction that occurs with any nutrient, in supplement or real-food form. Meaning that if we are deficient in that particular nutrient we experience symptoms or ill effects, and if we have too much of that particular nutrient we also experience symptoms or ill effects. As with almost everything in the body, there is a sweet spot, a goldilocks zone that our bodies operate best at. Supplementation often lends itself to a higher point in this dose responsive reaction, and it can be easy to overdo the amounts of nutrients we actually need thinking more is better. More is not always better!

Efficacy - The ultimate test when it comes to supplements and whether or not you should take them, is if you notice a difference while doing so! If you spend $200 a month on a slew of supplements and you’re not sure if they’re really doing anything, I recommend you cut back. When I worked as a retail nutrition coach, I would have people bring in grocery bags full of supplement bottles and ask me to evaluate them. I’d ask them forwardly, “do you notice a difference when you take these supplements?” Chances are, they’d say no. When taking a new supplement you should pay close attention at its effects and don’t start multiple supplements at the same time. Work each of them in to evaluate their efficacy and effect on your body individually.

Time - I don’t recommend supplements over a long period of time. The body works hard to detoxify and eliminate foods, substances and toxins we encounter everyday. A large dose of a nutrient over a long period of time can be taxing on the liver despite your best intentions of taking a supplement that is supposed to improve your health. I recommend taking an “off-day” or even a whole weekend where you don’t take any supplements and let your body rest. If you’ve taken the same type of supplement for many years, I also recommend giving your body a break of several months, and then evaluating whether or not you need it still. Most types of supplements generally aren’t supposed to be taken for the long term.

Cost - Supplements are expensive, confusing and the industry is profiting big time when it comes to consumers who are looking for a quick fix to improve their health. As I mentioned, the supplement industry is big business! It’s confusing to know what to look for when evaluating a supplement, or knowing what forms work best or are absorbed better. I like to mention probiotics when it comes to the value and cost of supplements: a good quality probiotic supplement will cost upwards of $35 in a health food store. A jar of sauerkraut that offers more nutrition and greater probiotic content will cost you around $6. Traditional fermented foods always win over a capsule of probiotics. Consider this with herbs as well. A box of turmeric tea will be less than a capsuled turmeric supplement and will likely be absorbed better too.

So, now that I’ve spewed my distaste of most supplements and why I don’t really recommend them, I will answer the originally question that I know some of you are still wondering: “Well, if you HAD to recommend the top 5, which would they be?” I get it, we want to feel like we are doing the best we can for our health and sometimes a supplement does have its place. I am not against supplements, and I appreciate that we have access to these nutrients that can improve our health. I am speaking on a broad level and for the general population when I highlight my reasons above.

So if you’re going to invest in supplements, here are the top five I recommend:

  1. Probiotic - Gut health is always a top priority and a probiotic is a must when you’re trying to repair gut function. I always recommend a refrigerated probiotic with multiple strains of bacteria. Read the label and compare to other products. Look for a high potency, too.

  2. Collagen - Collagen is super helpful for many areas of the body such as skin, hair, joints, bones, gut health and digestion. It’s easy to blend in a smoothie, coffee or other hot drinks and you can’t taste it at all! Don’t be fooled if a label says “vegan” collagen, because there is no such thing. Opt for grass-fed and organic, you don’t want to skimp on quality when it comes to collagen. I recommend Vital Proteins and Great Lakes.

  3. Vitamin D - As we spend less and less time outside, our vitamin D levels take a hit. This fat-soluble nutrient is related to so many processes in the body and many people are deficient in it, as it’s not found in many foods we eat either. A liquid or dissolvable tablet will give you the best chance for absorption. Get your levels checked easily by a quick blood test to determine how much you need to supplement with.

  4. Magnesium - A mineral so important to the body! It’s related to over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. I recommend magnesium because it supports brain health, mood, muscle function and SO much more. A dissolvable powder is preferred as it tends to absorb better in the body. Also consider a topical form of magnesium, as this is absorbed even more efficiently than a liquid or tablet.

  5. Cod Liver Oil - Cod Liver oil is a high source of the essential fatty acids like EPA and DHA. It also contains vitamin A and vitamin D, which help with absorption of the EPA and DHA. Quality is key here; cod liver oil can go rancid quickly and easily, and it has a negative effect on the body if it becomes rancid. Rosita and Green Pastures are two brands I recommend.

Get your supplements from a high quality brand that doesn’t use fillers, byproducts and is transparent about where they source their ingredients from and what their manufacturing is like. Avoid multi-level-marketing companies that sell supplements, or random websites that some “nutrition expert” is selling. These types of companies often have HUGE markups on their products and manufacture their products without much regard to quality whatsoever. You can find all these supplements I recommend at a natural food store at a much lower price and without the “exclusivity” of some of these inferior supplement companies. Some brands I recommend are Garden of Life, Nordic Naturals, Carlson, Thorne, Gaia, Jarrow and Natural Factors, as well as the specific companies I linked above. Also check out my Resources page and scroll towards the bottom where I have a section highlighting my favorite supplements in one place. 

Hope you find this post useful and I answered some of your questions about supplements. If you have any specific questions let me know! Tell me, what supplements do you take everyday??