You eat well – cover off on your macros, eat lots of greens, proteins, carbs and fats. Should you also be taking dietary supplements?
Many people are confused about what supplements to take to help support overall wellbeing. Often times, individuals are taking a slew of supplements and don’t know why, what the purposes are, or if the supplements are making a difference (or if they are worth the money). With so many options on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right brand, make sure you are taking the right dosage and monitor the improvements/or lack thereof in one’s health status. This article explores a common question of interest: do you really need supplements if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet?
When would supplements be helpful?
Generally speaking, there are certain supplements that everyone could benefit from no matter what they eat. Because we all absorb nutrients differently depending on our genetic makeup, some supplements can be a good form of “insurance” to help ensure that you are covered for the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals. Research shows that a quality multivitamin can help intake sufficient levels of micronutrients, something that is helpful for optimizing health status (Blumberg, 1). For those who have medical conditions or are limited in their dietary intake abilities and/or preferences, a multivitamin may also be very helpful for meeting these recommended micronutrient level minimums.
Another supplement that is generally suggested is omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, often found as fish oil supplements, is known to be anti-inflammatory, as it contains two key omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Diets high in EPA and DHA have shown to be mood boosting and anti-inflammatory, promoting a state of calm and homeostasis for the body (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2). Athletes, or individuals who are physically active, can also benefit from fish oil as research shows that fish oil can help with post-exercise muscle soreness due to its anti-inflammatory nature (Jouris, 3). Generally, all individuals can benefit from a quality fish oil supplement, however, make sure to consult a local healthcare professional in order to ensure that the fish oil you are taking is high quality and has an efficient EPA:DHA ratio. Because inflammation is often central to several disease states, maintaining this anti-inflammatory state helps to optimize overall functioning and wellbeing.
Lastly, two good supplements for general health are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live organisms found in food that have the ability to improve gut flora. Prebiotics are the foods (fibers) that feeds the good bacteria in the gut. Both probiotics and prebiotics can be found in the diet, with some good sources of probiotics being yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso, and sources of prebiotics being fruits and vegetables. While the jury is still out regarding the research on the effectiveness of probiotic and prebiotic supplements for the average, healthy individual, there is a lot of research to suggest that probiotic supplementation may help to normalize gut function. In one study with overweight individuals, a probiotic supplementation assisted in hunger/appetite regulation and, as a result, in weight loss (Sanchez, 4). When it comes to probiotics and prebiotics, it is generally best to consult a local healthcare professional to be sure that this kind of supplement will benefit you.
When supplements may not be needed
While supplements are a great way to help assist one’s diet in achieving wholesomeness, they are in no way a replacement to actual food intake. Generally, research finds that supplement consumers eat well-balanced diets. One theory as to why this is surrounds the health consciousness hypothesis, suggesting that those who are willing to invest in supplements often are willing to invest in their overall health, wellbeing and diets. One study indicated that supplement usage was directly correlated to fruit and vegetable consumption (Kang, 5). This begs the questions of multi-greens and other fruit and vegetable supplements and if they are beneficial. Ultimately, if one is consuming several servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day, a multi-greens type of supplement may not be adding significant health benefits. However, if one’s diet is limited in fruits and vegetables, a veggie-based supplement could be beneficial in providing the phytosterols and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
As with any change in diet/medical regimen, it is best to consult a team of healthcare professionals in order to ensure that what you are taking is benefitting overall health status. A good rule of thumb is to focus on nourishing foods first and to use these supplements as helpers and aids to an otherwise wholesome and balanced diet. In addition, it is important to check the labels of supplements, such as workout supplements, for artificial sugars or other ingredients that may be included. However, you can rest assured that a good quality multivitamin, omega-3 fatty acid, and probiotic supplement are good places to start, as they will unlikely harm overall health, and may help to further optimize health status.
1. Blumberg JB, Cena H, Barr SI, et al. The use of multivitamin/multimineral supplements: A modified delphi consensus panel report. Clinical Therapeutics. 2018;40(4):640-657. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149291818300894. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.02.014.
2. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Belury MA, Andridge R, Malarkey WB, Glaser R. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2011;25(8):1725-1734. https://www.clinicalkey.es/playcontent/1-s2.0-S0889159111004685. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2011.07.229.
3. Jouris KB, McDaniel JL, Weiss EP. The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine. 2011;10(3):432-438. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24150614.
4. Sanchez M, Darimont C, Panahi S, et al. Effects of a diet-based weight-reducing program with probiotic supplementation on satiety efficiency, eating behaviour traits, and psychosocial behaviours in obese individuals. Nutrients. 2017;9(3):284. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28294985. doi: 10.3390/nu9030284.
5. Kang H, Joo HH, Choi KD, Lee D, Moon J. Complementarity in dietary supplements and foods: Are supplement users vegetable eaters? Food & Nutrition Research. 2017;61(1):1361769-7. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/16546628.2017.1361769. doi: 10.1080/16546628.2017.1361769.
About the Author: Jordan Stachel, R.D.
Jordan Stachel is a Registered Dietitian passionate about nutrition, health and longevity. Jordan graduated from the University of Southern California, where she completed a Master’s degree in Nutrition, Healthspan, and Longevity. Jordan graduated from Chapman University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. Jordan is energized by the connection between optimal nutrition and quality of life and aims to help others achieve their maximum potential through nutrition. After firsthand experience counseling patients, Jordan realized the need for providing comprehensive healthcare services and sound nutrition advice to the general public. It can be difficult for the consumer to filter through nutrition information that is both credible and accurate, and as an expert in the field, Jordan is uniquely qualified to lead the discussion surrounding nutrition and wellness. Jordan looks forward to continuing to help others achieve the healthiest version of themselves and to being a dependable source and voice within the field of nutrition.