Week 6: When A Healthy Diet Isn’t Enough

Although our motto is “food first, supplements second,” we know that sometimes there is a need to add supplemental nutrients to our diets. Supplements can be a good way to help correct or prevent a nutritional deficiency or “insufficiency,” especially when when lifestyle factors (geographical location, allergies, food aversions, etc.) or digestive issues keep us from absorbing and using what we need. We get asked a lot of questions about supplements, so today we’re sharing which supplements we often recommend—in case you’re looking to tune up your own supplement regime or fill in nutritional gaps.

The six supplements we commonly recommend: fish oil, protein powder, magnesium, probiotics, vitamin D, and multivitamins.

Fish Oil

Before you wrinkle your nose and recall childhood memories of spoonfuls of cod liver oil, hear us out. The oil from cold-water fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which support our heart, brain, and immune health. Fish oil contains two very important fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Each have a unique way of supporting optimal health, so you want to be sure that your fish oil supplement contains both types.

    • DHA: helps maintain the structure and function of the brain, retinas, heart, and cardiovascular system
    • EPA: helps build cell signaling molecules and is important for function of the brain, heart, and nervous system.

Still not convinced? Let’s review some of the known health benefits of consuming a diet rich in fatty fish, like wild-caught salmon, herring, white fish, sardines, and anchovies:

  • Improves brain function and cognition, especially in older adults
  • Supports joint health
  • Lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases
  • Supports healthy eyesight, especially as we age
  • Enhances immune function
  • Supports fertility in both men and women

For healthy adults, we recommend 400 to 500 milligrams of combined DHA and EPA, which is roughly how much you’d get if you consumed two six-ounce portions of fatty fish per week. If you have a health condition like heart disease, high blood pressure, or high triglyceride levels, you may need a different dosage—so we recommend working with a qualified licensed healthcare provider.

Here are a few of our best tips for finding a quality fish oil supplement:

  1. Read the label. Flip the bottle over to see how many milligrams (mg) of DHA and EPA are in the product. (The front of the bottle may just list the total milligrams.) We’re most interested in the DHA and EPA content. Like we said, you want 400 to 500 milligrams of those omega-3s.
  2. Determine the serving size. Depending on the brand and the formulation you may need anywhere between one and six capsules of fish oil daily to get those 500 milligrams of omega-3s. Do the math to see how long each bottle will last (they usually come in a 30- or 60-day supply) and how much you’re paying per dose. Plus, if you don’t feel like popping a handful of capsules per day, that should factor into your decision.

Magnesium

Slipping into a hot bath at the end of a long day can do wonders for your body and mind—and help you let go of the stress of the day. Adding Epsom salts, which contain magnesium chloride, to your bath is a great way to take that relaxation to the next level.

The mineral magnesium is necessary for a whole host of body functions and has been purported to have the following health benefits:

      • Eases stress and promotes relaxation
      • Helps muscles and nerves function properly
      • Regulates activity of 325+ enzymes
      • Supports healthy insulin function
      • Helps soothe sore muscles
      • Supports absorption of nutrients
      • Helps form joint proteins, brain tissue, and mucin proteins
      • Promotes bowel regularity

There are many magnesium formulations on the market, but ultimately, the best one for you is the one you’ll take daily. If you notice magnesium citrate has too much of a stool-softening effect, we recommend magnesium glycinate. Talk with a qualified, licensed healthcare provider such as a registered dietitian nutritionist to figure out which formulation and dosage are best for you.

Protein Powders

Protein powders can help turn typically high-carb snacks, like smoothies, into meals, since protein slows digestion, helps regulate blood sugar, and increases satiety. (Adding some fat from nuts, nut butter, coconut milk, or avocado can also help with this.) But, that said, not all protein powders are created equal, and there are a few things you should look for in a protein powder that’s clean eating-friendly.

Here are our top picks for clean protein powders, and what to look for on the label:

Organic whey protein:

  • Non-GMO
  • Corn and soy-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Made from milk from grass-fed cows
  • No fillers, artificial flavors, or artificial sweeteners

Plant-based protein (hemp, pea, or sprouted brown rice protein):

  • Non-GMO
  • Corn and soy-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Unrefined
  • No fillers, artificial flavors, or artificial sweeteners

Collagen peptides:

  • Unflavored
  • Cold water soluble

Vitamin D

The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium for bone growth and maintenance, in addition to a host of other body functions. In fact, it’s so important that our bodies produce their own vitamin D when exposed to the sun. But since most of us don’t get enough sun—and wear sunscreen when we do—so many of us run low on vitamin D.

This tricky vitamin isn’t found in too many foods, though. Here are a few that can help you up your intake:

  • Salmon and mackerel  (especially wild-caught)
  • Cod liver oil
  • Tuna canned in water
  • Sardines canned in oil
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Milk or yogurt fortified with vitamin D
  • Cheese

The RDA for vitamin D is 600IU for adults—but many believe it may not be enough to promote optimal health and prevent disease. If you’re interested in adding a vitamin D supplement to your routine, ask your healthcare provider to check your levels. (It just takes a simple blood test.) From there your provider can recommend an appropriate daily dosage based on your current vitamin D levels.

Probiotics

Your gut contains 70 percent of the cells associated with your immune system and is home to more than 500 species and three pounds of bacteria. There are 10 times more bacteria in your gut than cells in your entire body, and they have a lot of power over your health.

Your gut bacteria feeds on what you eat, so you want to give them whole, fresh, unprocessed foods that are low in sugar and additives as often as possible. This helps increase the number of ‘good’ bacteria (often referred to as ‘probiotics’) and crowd out the ‘bad’ (or pathogenic) bacteria, which promotes a healthy gut, an effective immune system, and an increased ability to absorb nutrients.

Eating naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir (water and dairy versions), yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha can also beneficially affect these bacteria.

Because of other factors in our lives, though, our good bacteria may need an extra boost. Here are a few that affect our gut:

  • Medications: Frequent (or recent) antibiotic use, overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs, acid-blocking drugs, and/or steroids
  • A diet rich in “junk food” (highly-processed, refined foods devoid of nutrients)
  • Chronic stress
  • Infections: Yeast overgrowth, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or parasites
  • Low stomach acid and/or inadequate digestive enzymes

This is where the right probiotic supplement can really help you keep your healthy gut bacteria strong. Depending on the factors above, different people may benefit most from different probiotic supplements—but there are a few things we recommend looking for in a quality supplement:

  • Three or more strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (may include others such as Saccharomyces)
  • Potency of at least eight billion (measured in Colony Forming Units or CFUs)
  • Free of potential allergens such as dairy, gluten, soy, corn, and yeast

With so many options out there—along with your probiotic needs varying based on your specific health conditions or concerns—it’s best for work with a qualified, licensed healthcare professional such as a registered dietitian nutritionist to find the supplement to you.

Multivitamin

A good quality multivitamin can provide a ‘safety net’ for those days when you don’t get enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from the foods you eat. We recommend choosing a whole-food multivitamin that’s made from fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and that doesn’t contain mega quantities of any one vitamin or mineral.

Look for a multi that provides roughly 100 percent of your daily needs for vitamins A, C, E, K, and B vitamins. (Multis often provide extra vitamin B6 and B12, and that’s fine!). Women should also look for a multivitamin that includes iron.

We like Garden of Life My Kind Organics because they’re sourced from real food and provides just enough vitamins and minerals for the average person, with the exception of calcium.

Sometimes a gastrointestinal disorder, surgery, or other health condition can reduce your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, in which case you might need a more potent multivitamin to prevent or correct nutritional deficiencies. If any of these circumstances sound like you, meet with a qualified health pro to evaluate your nutrient status and find the right vitamin for you.

Related: Check out an assortment of whole-food multis.