I want to talk about a popular topic that has brought forth many questions in my young nutritional career: dietary supplements. They are somewhat controversial in the nutrition world. Some nutritionists believe in them, while others do not.
I, for one, believe in the use of some dietary supplements. However, many of them on the market today make outrageous claims backed by essentially no scientific evidence. Not only could this be a potential waste of money for the consumer, but also it raises safety issues, as limited research usually indicates little safety data.
I have been exposed to a broad range of dietary supplements over my high school and college years, especially in the athletic arena. Let’s just say that most people believe everything they read and/or hear, regardless of any glimpse of proof to back up the claims. I am writing here to tell you about the five top dietary supplements I would recommend taking.
1. Multivitamin/Mineral Supplement
Face the facts. Most of us do not eat healthy enough to get adequate amounts of each and every vitamin and mineral with diet alone. A daily multivitamin/mineral supplement provides those missing micronutrients, with no negative effects. They are also quite cheap. You do not need any fancy brand—a Target or Walmart brand will work almost just as well as the more expensive ones. This is a no-brainer.
2. Fish Oil
Fish oil provides those essential omega-3 fatty acids that are absent or limited in most people’s diets. If you have read my past columns, you should know that omega-3 fatty acids quickly are becoming the next “wonder-nutrient.” They are said to benefit just about any health parameter you can think of, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The science is still young, but it is there. Any brand will do.
3. Whey Protein Powder
This is for those who need extra protein (e.g., avid exercisers, individuals eating little meat, etc.). Whey is one of the purest forms of protein, and its amino acid profile closely matches that of the human body. This means the human body can utilize it more efficiently than other sources of protein. Whey protein is great to mix with yogurt, oatmeal, or just about any other food with that “creamy” texture. When you compare the price of whey to that of meat, it is quite inexpensive. I recommend cheaper brands found at grocery stores, Costco, and Sam’s Club over the more expensive ones (e.g., GNC).
Resveratrol is another one of those “do-all” types of phytonutrients gaining much popularity in the scientific world. Although research is still young, resveratrol has been shown to aid heart health and increase longevity. I prefer to get mine the natural, old-fashioned way (i.e., wine), but for those who dislike wine or do not drink, a resveratrol supplement may be worth a try.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin what? Yes, Vitamin D. Although it has been put on the back burner since initial discovery, it gradually has proven itself as one of the most critical vitamins. Unfortunately, this is also one of the more common nutritional deficiencies, especially in northern climates where the sun only shines a few months out of the year. Your body produces Vitamin D naturally when exposed to the sun, but we northerners do not get enough sun exposure to get our fill. Additionally, little Vitamin D is present in foods to satisfy our demand—with the exception of some dairy products. Science suggests that Vitamin D may help prevent heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and debilitating bone diseases such as osteoporosis. Given the relative lack of this vitamin in our northern climate, it may be a supplement to keep an eye on.
These are my top five dietary supplement recommendations for the general public. However, certain habits or disease states may require alternative or additional supplements (e.g., Vitamin C for smokers, glucosamine for arthritis, Vitamin B12 for the elderly, etc.). In general, I am for a healthy diet providing all the nutrients you need. Yet, I also know we live in the real world, and rarely can get 100 percent of our nutrient needs with diet alone. Additionally, more than 100 percent of these nutrients most likely will do no harm to the body, so just make sure your body gets enough of each. Remember, lots of claims with little scientific evidence and little government regulation flood the dietary-supplement market. Do your own research before wasting your hard-earned money for nothing.