Everyone is doing it, or so it seems. Dietary supplements. Big brands draw supplement users in with promises like “overall health and wellness,” and “filling nutrient gaps in the diet.” And a recent review of market research studies from the past five years found that supplement use by American adults is more common than previously reported, and even a “mainstream” practice.
Dr. Annette Dickinson and her colleagues reported their supplement use findings in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. According to their research, people using supplements are more likely than non-users to adopt a range of healthy behaviors including regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, visiting the doctor regularly, getting a good night’s sleep and keeping a healthy weight. Sounds like everyone should be taking supplements, right?
Well, before you go rushing off to the nearest pharmacy or herbal remedy shop, check out the three "W's" of supplements from Jamie McDermott, MS, RD, LDN:
Who should take them? Supplements cannot and should not replace or substitute for a healthy, whole foods diet. Period. Nutrients are always better absorbed when they come from food rather then a pill. If your doctor has established a deficiency that cannot be corrected with food alone, then a supplement becomes necessary.
What should I look for before taking a supplement? Be sure whatever you're looking to supplement can actually be absorbed into your body. The effectiveness can be altered by diet. For example, if you’ve already met the requirements for water soluble vitamins like vitamin C, you will not absorb any more then this requirement.
Where is the best place to get them? If choosing to take a supplement, look for it to be tested and verified by an organization such as the USP (United States Pharmacopia). Keep in mind that because supplements are not regulated by the FDA, there will always be questions as to whether there is the actual amount of the active ingredient that the product claims.
Although there has been a lot of controversy about whether or not using a given supplement has any real health benefits, the evidence of Dr. Dickinson and her group is clear:
“What the data tells us is that dietary supplement usage is a mainstream practice, and, contrary to some assertions, supplement users do not use these products as a license to slack off on eating right or exercising, but instead are health conscious individuals trying to do all the right things to be healthy.”
It’s almost as if taking a supplement is a reminder to follow it up with a good dose of diet and exercise!
Need a good starting point? You're in luck. We consulted Melissa Burton, RD for her list of three supplements almost anyone can benefit from:
Omega-3: These babies are important for a normal metabolism (think burning calories!), may help fight certain cancers, combat cardiovascular disease and can potentially decrease inflammation.
Calcium: You know it does a body good, right? Strong bones and healthy teeth are two of its many benefits.
Probiotics: This one can take some credit for keeping you “regular.” Want a happy tummy? You need to balance out any antibiotics with probiotics. We’ll spare you the details.