Have you ever stood in the supplement aisle in the store and wondered what supplements you should really be taking? You’re not alone. The choices are endless. You also may be hearing conflicting advice from friends, family, or even health care professionals.
There are many reasons people should be taking vitamin and mineral supplements, and unfortunately, many are not. The most obvious reason facing Americans is poor dietary habits. Our dietary habits have changed over last several decades to include more processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and fewer fruits and vegetables. In addition to these habits, our food supply is less “nutrient dense” due to modern farming techniques, depleted soils, and processing of foods. Of course, it is always best to obtain your nutrients from food, yet in reality, the average American’s intake is rarely adequate. When choosing supplements, consider the following:
Multi Vitamin/Mineral Supplement
A good quality multi vitamin and mineral supplement is the foundation of any supplement regimen. Look for a supplement that contains at least 100% of the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowances) of most micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals and trace elements), with the exception of calcium and magnesium (I’ll get to that later). If you are a pre-menopausal female who is menstruating, you need to look for one with iron. If you are a post-menopausal woman or are male, you need one without or less than 10 mg of iron.
Calcium is essential for strong bones, teeth, and muscles among other benefits. I recommend taking at least 600mg of Calcium (preferably in the Citrate form) daily unless you get at least 2-3 servings of dairy daily. Do not take Calcium with your multivitamin, as it can interfere with absorption of other nutrients.
We routinely test our Weightloss Clinics® patients for Vitamin D status and find that on average 75% or more are deficient. Research shows that there is a direct correlation with weight loss and Vitamin D status. Vitamin D also helps the body absorb calcium and plays a role in preventing certain cancers. If you are not exposed to the sun on a regular basis, always wear sunblock, or are dark-skinned, you should be taking supplemental vitamin D. Ideally, have your levels checked by your physician. If you are low, you will be prescribed supplemental Vitamin D to bring your levels up. If your Vitamin D levels are in the normal range, I recommend taking 1,000-2,000 I.U. daily for maintenance.
Magnesium is an abundant mineral found in bones, teeth and red blood cells. In the past, our focus has been on Calcium supplementation for bone health. Magnesium is finally coming into the spotlight as being equally important. The RDA for Magnesium is 270-400 mg/day for adults. I recommend taking half of the amount of the supplemental calcium you are taking as magnesium. For example, if you are taking 600mg of Calcium per day, you should also be taking at least 300mg of Magnesium per day in the form of Magnesium Citrate, Glycinate, or Aspartate. Avoid Magnesium Oxide, as it is poorly absorbed and can have a laxative effect as well as potentially cause GI distress.
Omega-3 (Fish Oil)
The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are too numerous to list in this article. One of the most talked about benefits is fighting inflammation, but it also has roles in the brain, eyes, blood, bones, and reproductive organs. The typical American does not eat enough of, or the right kind of Omega-3 fats. We also eat too many of the “heart-healthy” fats that impede the benefits of Omega-3 fats (corn oil, cottonseed oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and margarine). In order to correct these imbalances, it is often necessary to supplement with an Omega-3 supplement. When choosing an Omega-3 supplement, look at the label. The most powerful Omega-3 fats are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). We recommend our patients supplement with a total of 1,000 mg of EPA + DHA per day (note: this is not equal to the size of the capsule – it’s what’s in it that counts). Depending on the brand or type, this could mean 1-3 capsules per day. I recommend they be taken with food in order to prevent stomach upset. You can take less if eat fish more than 3-4 times per week, especially Mackerel, Bluefin Tuna, Salmon, Trout, Sardines, whitefish (lake), and Herring.
You should always discuss your supplement intake with your doctor, as there are circumstances that may require special doses or types of supplementation. These include medication usage, various illnesses or diseases, and lifestyle. For the general population, the combination above should meet the needs of most individuals. Remember, supplements are not meant to replace food, rather they should act as “insurance” to prevent any deficiencies.
Amy Shideler, MS, RD