During a recent phone call with Amanda—a new client of mine—when asked what her single most burning question was, she replied with: “I am soooo glad you asked! Should I be taking a supplement and if so which ones? I mean, my thoughts are if I eat a perfect diet I won’t need a vitamin. So I guess I should just make sure I get all of my vitamins and minerals from food and then I won’t have to worry…right?” Dear, sweet Amanda. I wanted to reach through the phone and hug her for her enthusiastic goal of eating a perfectly balanced diet every single day of her life. Enthusiastic, but not realistic.
If (and this is a BIG ‘if’) you eat a perfectly balanced diet every day of your life I would love to shake your hand. Congratulations—you do not need a supplement! I consider myself a pretty healthy eater and even I don’t eat in perfect balance every day. I try, but it doesn’t always happen because this thing called ‘LIFE’ gets in the way. Does this mean you should abandon all attempts to eat well? Of course not! Strive to eat nutritiously, not perfectly. If you are a perfect eater, I’m not sure you are human and I’m pretty sure you don’t have many friends. No one likes a food nerd…they aren’t any fun! I can jokingly say this because there is no such thing as a perfect eater. Period.
If you are like me and aren’t a perfect little eater, listen up because here are the three supplements you should consider taking:
Look for no more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most nutrients. More isn’t better and can be dangerous to your health, so stay away from ‘mega dose’ vitamins. Keep in mind that you are still receiving vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat throughout the day, so I wouldn’t discount a multivitamin that has less than 100% of the Daily Value.
- Calcium and Vitamin D
If you aren’t drinking 3 cups of milk every day, you are probably falling short of meeting your calcium and vitamin D needs. Males and females age 14-18 require 1300 mg of calcium each day. At age 19-50 the requirements decrease to 1000 mg each day. Women should bump up to 1200 mg of calcium each day at age 51, while men can wait until age 71 for this increase. Vitamin D requirements are set at 600 IU per day for ages 1-70. Beginning at age 71, vitamin D requirements increase to 800 IU. Look for a supplement offering 500 mg of elemental calcium (calcium absorption is highest in doses less than or equal to 500 mg) and 600-800 IU of vitamin D. Most supplements contain approximately 1000 IU of vitamin D. Be sure to check your multivitamin, as many already contain calcium and vitamin D.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3’s can help lower your triglycerides, boost overall heart health, reduce depression and increase brain function. For healthy adults, the World Health Organization recommends consuming 0.3-0.5 grams (300-500 mg) of daily EPA + DHA. This equals out to 2100-3500 mg per week.The American Heart Association wants you to eat 2 servings of fatty fish per week to achieve this recommended dose. One 3-ounce portion of Atlantic salmon offers 1.9 grams of omega 3?s, so if you eat two servings per week you’re up to 3.8 grams (3800 mg). If you aren’t getting your omega 3’s from fatty fish like anchovies, bluefish, herring, mackerel, salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed), sardines, sturgeon, lake trout, and tuna, than you should consider a supplement. Look for a supplement containing 300-500 mg of EPA + DHA per serving. My favorite is CorOmega.
Supplements bridge the gap between perfect nutrition and not-so-perfect nutrition. It’s always best to get your nutrition from food versus supplements— so do your best each day to eat a wide range of real foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, healthy fats and low-fat dairy products. On your totally human, less-than-perfect eating days, it’s o.k. to supplement as suggested above. Just be sure to check with your doctor first, especially if you are taking prescription medications!