The typical western diet is high in nutrient-poor processed foods, full of refined grains and added sugars and has a highly imbalanced ratio of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. All of which are linked to chronic inflammation and disease.
But you already knew this right?
If you’re reading this blog you are probably already health conscious. You follow a healthy lifestyle, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, prioritise your sleep, drink plenty of water, and get outdoors as much as possible.
So why would you need supplements at all?
In an ideal world, everyone would get their daily nutrient needs from food alone. Yet even if you eat a healthy well-balanced diet, you may still fall short of your nutrient requirements.
Many foods today don’t contain the same nutrient content as foods previous generations were exposed to.
Most of the animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy found on supermarket shelves contain less Omega 3s and other nutrients than wild or grass-fed animals.
Modern farming techniques and fertilisers deplete the soil of nutrients meaning conventionally grown produce is often lacking beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Nutrient content is further degraded through modern harvesting, shipping, processing, and storage techniques.
On top of this, some preservatives used on fruit and vegetables actually decrease the bioavailability of nutrients in the food and increase your nutrient demands in order to process those chemicals.
But I only eat organic, that doesn’t matter to me, does it?
Even eating fresh, organic produce does not guarantee you will get the nutrients you need. Some studies have shown that organically grown foods contain more nutrients, but many studies also conclude that there is no significant difference.
Not only are we getting fewer nutrients from our food, our nutrient demands are much higher. Modern life brings with it numerous external stressors. Constant work deadlines. Interrupted circadian rhythms. Toxins in our environment. Even exercise.
When the body is placed under stress and toxins are present, it needs more nutrients to deal with them, often more than food can provide. To make these matters worse our ability to absorb nutrients also decreases as we age.
So if you are interested in living a long healthy life, you have likely thought about supplementation.
But it can be difficult to know where to start. It can be quite confusing when looking down the supplement shelf at your local supermarket or pharmacy and seeing hundreds of bottles of vitamins, minerals, and other unpronounceable supplements.
This list will help take some of the guesswork out of it. These five supplements will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to optimising your health and nutrition.
Many experts agree that if you were to take only one supplement, fish oil would be the one to take. Fish oil is sourced from the tissues of fish. Primarily fatty, cold-water fish and contains the essential Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These molecules are incorporated into the outside lipid layer of all your cells, allowing for better signaling between cells.
Fish oil supplements have been shown to regulate inflammation, enhance cognition and mood, and support healthy heart and brain function. They can also improve insulin sensitivity, aid fat burning and increase metabolic rate because of their high thermic effect.
You should aim to get 1 to 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily. You can get some of this intake from eating oily fish such as salmon and tuna, but it is very hard to get enough from eating fish alone. When it comes to fish oil supplements quality is important, so do your research. Many fish oils on the market can be contaminated or rancid and can be harmful rather than beneficial.
If you do not eat meat another good source of omega 3s is flaxseed or flaxseed oil.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin primarily synthesised in the body through exposure to UV rays from sunlight. It is naturally present in very few foods, mainly fish, eggs and mushrooms, and is difficult to obtain enough from diet alone. Most people only get five to 10 percent of their vitamin D from food.
Vitamin D is important for strong bones, muscles and overall health. Achieving healthy vitamin D levels is one of the easiest ways to prevent chronic disease, promote long-term health, optimise body composition, and reduce injury and illness rates.
Adequate vitamin D levels help to support a healthy immune system, decrease the likelihood of depression and other mood disorders, support muscular strength and power and have been linked to fighting many cancers including lung, breast, colon, and prostate.
Conversely, Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to heightened risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, and obesity.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is necessary for the production of vitamin D in the skin and is the best natural source of vitamin D.
20-30 minutes outside in the middle of the day is adequate for most people to get their recommended vitamin D levels. However, because most people spend the majority of their time indoors and are protected from the harmful effects of UV rays when they are outside, many people do not get adequate levels. Unless you actively seek out daily sun exposure without sunglasses or sunscreen, especially in the winter months, you’re most likely low in vitamin D.
Those with darker skin are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. The melanin, or pigmentation in the skin, reduces the amount of UV absorbed by the skin, thereby reducing vitamin D production.
If testing vitamin D levels it is important to do so periodically due to seasonal differences. Testing every 3 to 6 months is recommended.
Supplementing with 2,000 to 5,000 IUs daily to achieve a blood value between 50 and 80 ng/ml is the easy alternative if you have limited sun exposure.
Magnesium is an abundant mineral that plays a role in more than 300 processes in the body. It is one of seven essential macrominerals, meaning it needs to be consumed in relatively large amounts to maintain healthy levels.
Magnesium is an important mineral for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and plays an important role in diabetes prevention. It is a key mineral in bone formation and helps to keep bones strong and prevent osteoporosis. Because of its calming effect on the nervous system magnesium helps to create healthy sleep patterns and aids in stress management and prevention of depression and other mood disorders.
It is rare to be extremely deficient in magnesium because the kidneys regulate excretion of this mineral. However, due to dietary changes and a drop in soil quality, intakes below recommended levels are common. Even drinking filtered or bottled water often means you are missing out on essential minerals like magnesium.
Because of its role in so many processes within the body the signs of low magnesium levels are vast. Some symptoms linked to low magnesium include muscle cramps/weakness, fatigue, mental disorders, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, asthma and irregular heartbeat. The symptoms are usually subtle unless levels are chronically low.
The best way to check magnesium levels is to get a red blood cell magnesium test with optimal values being between 5.6 and 6.8 mg/dL. Blood contains only about 0.3 percent of magnesium in the body, with the rest stored in bone, muscle, and connective tissue, making typical serum blood tests useless for assessing magnesium status.
A recommended daily dose of 10 mg/kg/bodyweight of magnesium is generally recommended for supplementation. Supplement quality is important. Cheap magnesium chelates like magnesium oxide can cause overrelaxation of the bowel, leading to urgency going to the bathroom.
Probiotics are naturally occurring bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. They are also live microorganisms that can be consumed through fermented foods or supplements.
There is a good reason why fermented products such as Kombucha and Keffir and Kimchi have exploded in popularity in recent years. Consuming adequate amounts of probiotics help to promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and provide a wide range of health benefits.
More and more studies show that the balance or imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to overall health and disease
Probiotics aid digestion and nutrient absorption in the gut, ensuring your body can absorb vitamins, minerals, and protein from food. They affect the production of neurotransmitters in the GI tract leading to better cognition, and boost mood and motivation levels. They can also aid fat loss, boost your immune system and help to keep the heart healthy by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
Probiotics improve the body’s ability to eliminate waste products and foreign compounds. They also help prevent toxicity and organ damage caused by alcohol or other common medications.
Probiotics can be consumed by adding fermented foods and drinks to your diet. Kombucha, Keffir, Kimchi, and Sauerkraut are some examples of probiotic-containing products. Probiotic supplements can also be taken although it’s important to find one that actually contains live microflora bacteria. Many products are only guaranteed at the time of manufacture, meaning that the majority may have died off by the time you take them. Instead, only buy probiotics that are guaranteed through to the date of expiration.
Another thing to look for in supplements is that they contain strains that have been tested in research and shown to have worthwhile outcomes.
Some examples of what to look for are:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM
- Bifidobacterium lactis BI-07 or HN019
- Bacillus Indicus HU36
- Bacillus Subtilis HU58
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001
- Saccharomyces boulardii
As mentioned above it is hard to get all of your recommended nutrients from food, even if eating a varied, whole food diet. Nutrient levels in the body can also be further depleted due to prescription drug use and chronic stress. While aiming to get as much of your nutrient needs from food sources is important, a good multivitamin can help to top up any nutrient deficiencies you may have.
Because multivitamins combine so many nutrients in one, quality is often compromised. All minerals are bound with another compound for stability. Companies decrease production costs by using mineral salts for binding. Mineral salts, which can be identified as carbonate, oxide, and sulfate are very poorly absorbed.
Poor absorption can be largely avoided by choosing minerals that are bound with an amino acid because they are treated like proteins by the body and are easily digested. Examples include taurate, glycinate, orotate, arginate, lysinate, and citrate.
It’s also important to keep an eye out for multis that have high levels of preformed vitamin A (called retinyl palmitate or acetate on the label) and manganese because these can be toxic at higher levels.
As with the other supplements on this list, quality is important if you don’t want to be flushing your money down the toilet. Do your research and buy the best quality supplements your budget allows.
Trying to stick to practitioner brand supplements generally ensures you are getting the quality you’re paying for as these are held to a higher standard than many brands found on supermarket shelves.
Supplementation should not and will not replace a healthy well balanced diet, but if you are serious about optimising your health and nutrition this guide can help to