As a dietitian nutritionist, I’ve always believed in food first. I try to get most of my nutrients from my kitchen, but realistically, I know it’s not possible to meet all of my needs all of the time. That’s where supplements come in. No, they can’t replace a healthy diet—but they can balance out your nutrient intake, and are especially helpful when you’re dealing with a health issue or extra stress (from anything from athletic training to pregnancy).
With so many different vitamin blends and sources out there, few wellness tasks are as stupefying as shopping for a multivitamin.
Luckily, your standard multivitamin will fill out most common nutritional gaps for pretty cheap, says Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D. (60 days-worth of The Vitamin Shoppe One Daily multivitamins costs just $9.99.)
Integrative medicine nutritionist Sheila Dean, D.Sc., R.D.N., L.D.N., C.C.N., I.F.M.C.P., co-founder of the Integrative & Functional Nutrition Academy, prefers a high-potency multivitamin, which contains more than 100 percent of your daily needs for each vitamin and mineral, that contains easier-to-digest methylated B vitamins.
If you’re really concerned about getting the most comprehensive multi possible, Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., C.D.E., author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet, swears by a multivitamin that contains often-forgotten nutrients like choline, an essential nutrient that’s key for cellular structure and function.
Another staple of many nutritionists’ wellness routines is calcium, which is crucial for muscle and nerve function, blood clotting, and healthy bones. Ward takes 600 milligrams every day because she does not eat the recommended four daily servings of dairy. (The Vitamin Shoppe’s Caramel Calcium Soft Chews taste like a treat and pack 1,000 milligrams of calcium per serving.)
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for bone health because it helps our bodies absorb calcium. And while we can meet our daily vitamin D needs with adequate exposure to strong sunlight, most of us don’t get anywhere close to the amount of sun required, and the vitamin is hard to come by in food. “I take 400 IUs of vitamin D every day because I live in the Northeast where the sun isn’t strong enough to help our bodies make vitamin D six months out of the year,” says Ward. (Rainbow Light’s Berry D-Licious gummies are a delicious way to meet your D needs.)
Adaptogens may be a newly-hot topic, but these stress-fighting herbs and mushrooms have been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese schools of medicine for centuries. Recent research confirms adaptogens’ benefits, demonstrating their ability to reduce stress, improve attention, up endurance, and fight fatigue.
Plant-powered dietitian and author of Plant-Powered for Life, Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., loves using the herb ‘ginkgo’ (a.k.a. ginkgo biloba), an antioxidant that boosts blood flow, to support cognition and focus.
Anne Elizabeth Cundiff, R.D., L.D., F.A.N.D., meanwhile, is all about Maca root, and uses it daily in smoothies. Cundiff, who is in her early forties, has noticed hormone and energy-related benefits since adding maca to her recipes. You can take Maca in powder form (try Sunfood Superfoods Raw Organic Maca Powder) or capsule form (try plnt Maca).
5. Sleep Support Supplements
There are few things more frustrating than trying to fall asleep and spending the next hour staring at the ceiling—and it’s a struggle about 30 million Americans (nutritionists included) deal with.
Palinski-Wade uses a supplement that combines valerian (an herb that has long been used to support relaxation and may increase levels of GABA, a chemical that regulates our nerve cells), hops (a flowering plant known for its calming effect), and magnesium (a mineral that promotes calm throughout the body), to support her body’s natural production of the sleep-friendly hormone melatonin and ward off the sleep-stealing hormone cortisol.
When dietitian Danielle Omar, M.S., R.D., has trouble sleeping, she goes for a melatonin supplement. “It’s also great for when I’m traveling and trying to adjust to time-zone changes,” she says. (The Vitamin Shoppe Strawberry Melatonin Gummies are a popular option.)
Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in our bodies; it’s crucial for the connective tissues in our body like our hair, skin, nails, and joints—and is arguably one of the buzziest supplements out there right now. You’ve no doubt seen Vital Proteins’ iconic blue tub of Collagen Peptides on Instagram at some point or another…
In fact, it’s dietitian Lauren O’Connor, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., favorite ‘can’t live without it’ supplement. “It whips well into almond milk for a fantastic smoothie or a delicious coffee latte,” she says. Omar is also a collagen fan and uses an unflavored bovine-based collagen protein powder, which dissolves undetected into all sorts of drinks.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are largely found in fish, support heart, brain, and eye health—and are largely missing from the standard American diet, especially for vegans and vegetarians. That’s why Palmer (who keeps a plant-based diet) starts her morning with an omega-3 supplement.
Omega-3’s are also nonnegotiable for Roberta L. Duyff, M.S., R.D.N., F.A.N.D., author of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, who takes a lemon-flavored liquid fish oil every day—even adding it to recipes. “The oil adds a citrus-y flavor to my morning yogurt and fruit smoothies, salad dressings, marinades, and sauces,” she says. Want to get creative with your fish oil? Try Nordic Naturals Lemon Omega-3 Oil.
The mineral magnesium is involved in over 300 body processes, though it’s often credited for its roles in energy production and nervous system function. Magnesium has a calming effect on our bodies—and low magnesium levels have been linked with mood and sleep issues. “Since I’ve started taking magnesium, I’ve had better sleep and I wake up feeling well rested,” says dietitian Rachel Berman, R.D., General Manager of health and fitness website Verywell. She takes between 150 and 300 milligrams before bed. Try stirring a serving of Natural Vitality’s Raspberry Lemon Natural Calm into water after dinner.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.