I’m always looking for supplement advice. I’ve always been a very curious person. I try to be inquisitive and as curious as I can, which means that I take everything I hear with a grain of salt.
I’ve been given some great advice when it comes to supplements. Some of the best are as follows:
- Take your supplements with food if you have a sensitive stomach.
- Know the difference between water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Supplements can’t replace a healthy diet.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of false information going around that I’d like to clear up. This is one of 4 blog entries covering the worst advice I’ve ever been given. You can catch the other ones here: Nutrition, Beauty, Diets. But first, take a look at the worst supplement advice I’ve ever received!
1. You need to take a multivitamin.
Multivitamins are like taking all the vitamins and minerals you need in one or two small pills. There’s a reason why over half of all Americans are taking a multivitamin regularly.* And it’s clear to me why so many people want to take them. Benefits include increased energy levels, improved mood, reduced stress and anxiety, helps maintain muscle strength and fat loss, can improve short-term memory loss, and more. It also means taking only one pill instead of a bunch of different pills – it takes out all the guesswork!
With all those benefits, why not just take a multivitamin? I’m not against that at all. In fact, I do keep this one at home just in case, and I always bring it with me while traveling. Multivitamins are important! Here are the people I think would benefit most from a multivitamin:
- those who are not able to eat enough fruits or veggies (76% of adults don’t eat enough fruit and 87% of adults don’t eat enough veggies)
- for those who are older and are at risk for poor food intake (difficulty chewing or swallowing, on multiple medications, depressed appetite)
- those who are pregnant (prenatal multivitamin)
- or those who have trouble absorbing nutrients from their foods (Celiac, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, recent surgeries, illnesses, alcoholism, etc.)
That being said, I don’t think multivitamins are essential, and they are definitely not on my list of Daily Supplements I Can’t Live Without. Larry Appel, the director of Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention took the words right out of my mouth: “Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases. Other nutrition recommendations have much stronger evidence of benefits — eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar you eat.” Therefore, if you follow a healthy diet, you can get all of the vitamins and minerals you need from food.
Before you buy a multivitamin, there are a few things to consider. Find out what you need to be taking first. I realized I don’t need much Vitamin B, except for B6. Most women’s multivitamins will be packaged with all B vitamins, especially B12 because we tend to lose iron while menstruating. Multivitamins are not a one-size-fits-all, which is why there are many different kinds for young teens, adults, the elderly, and those who are pregnant.
Also, consider that if you are taking any supplements that are already in your multivitamin, you may be doubling or tripling what you need in a day. In many cases, multivitamins are full of water-soluble vitamins that you excrete if your needs are already met. However, do you want to be flushing your money down the toilet? And for those vitamins that are not water-soluble, like vitamin A or vitamin E, you need to consider how much is getting stored in your body, specifically the liver and fatty tissues. Too much of a good thing can have consequences, too. Always ask a doctor if you should be on a multivitamin and which would be best considering the supplements or medications you are already taking.
2. Supplements are a waste of money.
Now that I’ve told you about how multivitamins are useless for most people, you’re probably going to think this blog post is all over the place. First I say you don’t need supplements, then I say you do. I believe that supplements are absolutely worth the money. But don’t break that piggy bank until you know what supplements would benefit you best!
No matter who you are or where you are in life, you will be thrown a curveball at some point. Sometimes things are good and you may not think you need supplements. Other times, you feel over-worked, underpaid, unappreciated, sad, stressed, angry, etc. Life isn’t linear; there are ups and downs, and I believe that supplements play a small part in helping us feel like our most productive and fortunate selves.
Some supplements may be redundant! I’m not going to name any companies, but have you ever been convinced of buying a product just because of the way it was marketed or the promises the company made to your health and wellness? Most of the time, you may not have needed the product, but you may have seen it help a friend. Unfortunately, that does happen. I can’t discount that. However, supplements have been shown to fill in the nutritional gaps in our modern-day diets.
Here are some examples:
- If you are vegan, you may not get enough B12 or Omega-3s. Rather than eat meat, you may choose to supplement with a B-vitamin and an Omega-3 capsule made of Algae.
- For those who can’t sleep and want something that is easy to take and non-habit forming, you can take a melatonin capsule (every night if you want!)
- Without having to go through all the different vitamins and minerals, it’s safe to say that there is a decline in the nutritional content of our fruits and veggies. This is due to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition*. Sure, our veggies and fruits got larger, but the nutritional value is no longer there.
For that last reason alone, I will always purchase additional supplements to fill in the gaps in my diet, even though I consider myself to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet.
3. A calcium supplement is necessary for bone health.
It’s hard to say how much calcium is needed for bone health. It varies for women and men, and many health authorities can’t actually come to a consensus on the amount. Many say that the best calcium supplement is none! I’m not saying you shouldn’t consume calcium at all, since it’s important to help protect your bone strength and guard against fractures as you age. The reason why a supplement may not be the best choice is that a pill is not going to be processed the same way as ingesting calcium-rich food. Research is still inconclusive about whether or not a calcium supplement is going to fortify bones, or actually just cause more harm than good. Some even suggest there is no health benefit at all!*
Instead of using supplements, why not try some of these healthy dietary sources of calcium?
- Dried figs
- Leafy green veggies (like spinach and kale)
- … and more!
Women and men ages 19-50 should consume 1,000 mg of calcium a day according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Those over age 50 should aim for 1,200 mg of calcium. A consistent workout regimen will help keep your bones and joints strong as well. Consider that your supplement!
4. Fiber supplements are a good substitute for high fiber foods.
Like I said at the beginning of this blog: Supplements can’t replace a healthy diet. That means that no supplement should not replace a fiber-rich food. However, some may find that foods just don’t do it. Perhaps, you may need something extra to boost your diet.
Dietary fiber can reduce cholesterol, promote healthy weight, add bulk to the digestive tract (to stimulate the intestines), can promote blood sugar control, and can reduce the risk of gastrointestinal cancer. If you’re eating a decent portion of fruits and veggies daily, you’re likely getting enough fiber. Foods like artichokes, beans or peas, oats, popcorn, chia seeds, and pears are full of fiber. It’s not only prunes you need to look out for!
There are also different kinds of fiber. This means that if you eat certain foods, you may be getting 1 or 2 of the 4 possible types. You may want more variety.
First of all, there are two categories of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble.
- Soluble fiber absorbs the water in your food which slows down digestion. This has been shown to help reduce bad LDL cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.
- Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, which helps move it through your digestive system (and relieves constipation!) – this can help balance the pH in your intestines.
That’s not all you need to look out for! Here are 4 different types of Fiber that you may need to supplement if you aren’t getting these from food.
- INULIN – This prebiotic soluble fiber helps maintain gut bacteria, helping you absorb more nutrients.
- METHYLCELLULOSE – This soluble fiber is made from cellulose, an important structure in plants. It’s less likely to contribute to bloating and gas. This one only dissolves in cold liquid (not hot), so try it out in a smoothie or with a scoop of protein powder after a workout!
- PSYLLIUM – Also known as Ispaghula, this one is made from the seed husks of a 70% soluble fiber. It can increase fullness and slow digestion. This is a great choice for those who want to ease the painful symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, hemorrhoids, and anal fissures.
- WHEAT DEXTRIN – This soluble fiber is a great gluten-free option for those trying to manage their blood sugar (think diabetes). Because it’s tasteless and can easily dissolve in both hot and cold liquid, it’s a great choice for those who like to add it to food or drinks but hate the taste and texture of other fiber products!
If you are experiencing any gastrointestinal problems besides occasional constipation, please reach out to your doctor to find out if you even need a fiber supplement. Many of you will likely be getting enough from your healthy diet.
5. Everyone can benefit from a probiotic supplement.
Not only does a probiotic supplement not necessarily benefit you, but many probiotics on the market aren’t very heavily studied. If you take a look at many probiotic products on the market, most of them tout a hefty number colony forming units (CFU) – usually in the billions. This is a unit of measure used in microbiology to estimate the number of bacteria in a sample capable of dividing and forming colonies. Although the vast majority of positive clinical trials indicate that probiotic doses of 10-20 billion CFU per day are sufficient for maintaining immune and digestive health, products featuring CFUs of 50-100 billion are becoming increasingly common. Bigger is not always better! And I’ve fallen for this more than once when it comes to choosing and purchasing my probiotics.
There is very little evidence out there to indicate that ingesting more probiotic bacteria than needed will result in greater benefits. You also need to consider the survivability and stability of your probiotic, but that’s a topic for another day.
Your ideal probiotic strains are completely unique to you and your body. That being said, many people will not benefit from the strains that work best for me. The right dose of probiotics will also depend on the individual and the purpose for taking probiotics in the first place. If you are taking it to balance out your mood, you will need a different strain than those who have trouble with IBS. For everyday immune and digestive support, 10-15 billion CFU is likely the best option for you, and a great way to save some money. Some may need even less than that and may opt for a Digestive Enzyme a few times a day to get a few billion CFU of strains that benefit almost everyone!
If you want to save even more money and take the guesswork out of it, try out some probiotic-rich foods, like fermented sourdough or pickles, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, miso, and raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar. These foods are an easy way to add some good bacteria to every meal!
I have nothing against supplements. As you may already know, I take plenty of supplements a day! I’ve gone through the wringer trying to figure out what works best for me, and in the process, have spent a fortune on things that were completely unnecessary for me. It’s important to understand that none of these “myths” are set in stone. I used to be on a women’s multivitamin when I was young and I felt it helped (whether it was a placebo effect or not, I can’t remember). I stopped taking the Women’s multi when I began taking different doses of the individual vitamins and minerals. I’ve also changed my probiotics annually and have used them for different reasons at different times in my life.
Lastly, I’m guilty of being a bad planner/packer, and sometimes, it is just easier to take a pill in order to fill the gaps in my diet. This is especially true when I travel: instead of meals, I often pack meal-replacement bars or protein powders that will fill me up and give me the nutrients I need. However, like I stated above, this is not a long-term solution. Supplements are given that name for a reason. Keep them as an appetizer to your main meal so you and your body can function optimally!
Comment below if you think you need to work on anything above. I’m still working on getting enough fiber in my diet naturally… anyone else feel me on that one?! Tag a friend who needs to read this – let them know they are not alone!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.