Recently, I was asked what were the top five supplements that I would recommend to everyone. Generally, I shy away from such blanket recommendations but I had already given this some thought and have a few ideas. Let’s talk about what I think are the absolute, no BS essential supplements for everyone (& why!), PLUS some honorable mentions.
Here’s a quick glance at the top 5, in no particular order:
Creatine is highly effective and one of the most researched supplements in the industry. It’s benefits include better energy production, increased muscle performance & muscle strength and improved muscle recovery. In addition, these benefits are more pronounced in those following a vegetarian and vegan diet, since their levels are naturally lower. Supplementation is generally safe for most people and there is no scientific evidence of any long-term risks. ***It’s popular to think that creatine supplementation is “bad” for your kidneys. The truth is, if you have normal functioning kidneys, supplementing with creatine is safe. ***
Gut health is one of the cornerstones for overall health. The gut microbiome is an umbrella term used to describe the various bacteria, viruses, fungi and other organisms in our digestive system. Having a diverse microbiome helps with digestive health, brain health, immune health, even mood. Of course, I strongly recommend relying foods for your probiotics. Fermented foods, like kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut (just to name a few) are good sources. In supplement form, choose a probiotic with a diverse blend of bacteria (or be sure to cycle those with different types). Different probiotics are effective at different doses, but generally speaking, the more CFUs (colony forming units) a supplement contains, the better.
Fish Oil is an excellent source of Omega-3s. Omega-3s, like probiotics, have far reaching benefits. These include enhancing overall heart health, reducing joint pain and arthritis, even improving skin and mood. While a high quality fish oil is the best source for this, strict vegans can opt for algae oil instead.
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, can be synthesized from the sun’s UV rays. However, this process is much less efficient in individuals with deeper skin tones. Normal weather patterns and current lifestyle habits ( ie. we generally are spending less time outdoors) have also made deficiencies much more common. Fatigue and mood disturbances can be a sign but this should be verified by a blood test by your doctor. Vitamin D is not something we can reliably get from our diet, therefore, we should either spend more time exposing our bare skin to the sun or supplement. If you’re buying your own, choose a Vitamin D3 supplement OR if you are working with your doctor and a deficiency is found, you may have it prescribed instead.
~FOR MOMS~ Babies who are breastfed are also commonly prescribed vitamin D drops to supplement. This is because breastmilk does not contain an adequate amount of vitamin D. While these drops are perfectly safe, some have found that it can make the baby gassy and uncomfortable. Instead, mothers can supplement and it will be passed on the baby that way. The current recommendation is 6400ui daily.
The energy vitamin. Helps with the formation of DNA, red blood cells and the function of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in poultry, fish, eggs and diary; if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, supplementation is your best option. This is commonly seen in the two forms: cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. The latter, methylated form is what is found in our bloodstream and more readily accepted by the body when presented in supplement form. It’s preferable to cyanocobalamin and it’s one of the ways I gauge the quality of the supplement. You can also get vitamin B12 shots (make sure they are from a reputable source of course!). I should mention that these shots are often marketed as a weight-loss aid; that’s simply not true. These shots, while safe for everyone, are best for individuals with known B12 deficiencies (such as those following a vegan diet), mostly due to accessibility and the expense. Otherwise, if you think you can benefit from an energy boost, make sure you’re consuming food rich in B12 and perhaps try a high quality supplement from a brand you trust.
That’s it! Supplements are designed to “supplement” your foundational routine, so there’s no need to go overboard and buy everything the GNC employee offers you. With that being said, here’s some honorable mentions. These are valuable additions to any supplement routine but not completely necessary, for reasons we’ll discuss:
Whey Protein Isolate (or protein of choice)
Whey Protein Isolate is the protein supplement I recommend the most but this applies to be any protein. ~To learn more about different forms of protein supplements, check out my 12-week personal nutrition e-course IDEAL Nutrition~
Ideally, the majority of your protein should be coming from your diet, however, a high quality protein supplement can help you meet your protein requirements.
Initially, I thought this was something that most people could benefit from. But the truth is, your typical, run-of-the-mill multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement probably is not addressing any nutrient deficiency you may have. Instead of looking for the alphabet soup on the back of the label, try a more focused approach. Look for supplements with ONLY those vitamin and minerals you are looking for. Not sure what you need? Skip it and eat a well balanced, whole-food, plant-based diet. If you have specific concerns, work with a health professional you trust and consider getting lab work done, so you can know exactly what you need.
Throughout this blog post, I’ve put an emphasis on “high quality”. But what exactly is “high-quality”? I know this can be difficult, as the FDA does NOT regulate the supplement industry and they statements they make. If any supplement is going to be a regular staple in your supplementation routine, I strongly encourage you to become familiar with the company and understand the ingredients they use and their quality standards, so you can make an informed decision about your purchase.