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In a perfect world, we’d all have the time, energy, and resources to make sure that we receive all the nutrients our bodies need through a balanced and wholesome diet. But, because of processing and additives, our food isn’t always as nutritious as we want it to be. Add to that the rise in health issues requiring dietary restrictions and it becomes nearly impossible to get all the proper nutrients through food alone.
We talked to local nutrition and supplement experts to find out which supplements can help you fill in the gaps and maintain a healthful diet. Here are their top suggestions.
Multivitamins are a bit of a given, right? But the hard-pressed tablets most of us take don’t get digested properly, according to Justin Lackey, manager at Complete Nutrition. “They go in one end and right out the other,” he says. “So I tell people to get a good capsule multivitamin — a cellulose or gelatin capsule will break down as soon as it hits your digestive tract. Or, a powder mixed with water will be immediately absorbed by the body.” Phillip Stewart, owner of Columbia’s two Supplement Superstore locations, agrees. “A soft-capsule multivitamin will get you better absorption of nutrients.”
Another important part of making sure your body properly absorbs nutrients is by encouraging healthy gut bacteria. Laura Gresham, team leader and supplement buyer at Clover’s Natural Foods, says, “We take a lot of antibiotics, and the animals that we consume are fed a diet that is heavy in antibiotics, so we end up with a depleted gut flora.” This depletion, Laura says, also makes us susceptible to infections. “Taking a probiotic can boost your immune system as well as improve regularity.” Justin, at Complete Nutrition, adds that improved digestion through probiotic use can even help with weight loss.
Protein is important for building muscle, but our bodies also use protein to manufacture hormones and other necessary chemicals. Phillip, at Supplement Superstore, says there are protein supplements to fit anyone’s lifestyle. “We have a lot of people that use it in the morning, in a shake,” he says. “It breaks down like you’re eating whole food. Protein bars are good, too. They’ll give you some higher fiber, which is lacking a lot in people’s diets.” Caroline Cheong, regional nutritional health coach for Natural Grocers, says a good way to estimate your daily protein needs is to divide your weight by 2.2. For example, a woman weighing 150 pounds should shoot for about 68 grams of protein per day.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for heart health and also improve your body’s inflammatory response, which can reduce joint pain and asthma symptoms. Phillip recommends a supplement high in EPA and DHA fatty acids, which are used more easily by your body than the ALA acids found in plant sources like chia and flaxseed. Caroline, at Natural Grocers, says vegans and vegetarians should look for algae-based supplements made from the same algae that fish get their omega 3s from.
Women know how important calcium is for healthy bones, but without vitamin D, our bodies can’t properly absorb calcium. Beyond bone health, vitamin D also boosts the immune system. Caroline stresses, “Especially during this time of year, during fall and winter, you really want to build up your immune support.” Other vitamin D benefits include improved brain function, healthy inflammatory response, and healthy blood sugar balance.
Not all supplements are created equal. Make sure to check that your supplement actually contains what the label advertises by checking with independent organizations. Always consult your doctor about which supplements are best for you.