Your doctor has probably told you that the best way to get all the nutrients you need to stay healthy and active is by having a well-balanced diet containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as well as healthy sources of fat and protein.
And a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to prevent and control health problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.
Healthcare professionals and dieticians recommend diets that feature lots of nutrient-dense foods—those that have a lot of nutrients relative to the number of calories, such as:
- Swiss chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
- Crimini and shiitake mushrooms
- Sweet potatoes
- Cantaloupe, papaya, raspberries, and strawberries
- Seeds such as flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower
- Garbanzo, kidney, navy, and pinto beans
- Lentils and peas
- Almonds, cashews, and other nuts
- Barley, oats, quinoa, and brown rice
- Fish such as salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, shrimp, and tuna
- Lean, grass-fed beef, lamb, and venison
- Chicken and turkey
But many people who eat a sensible diet still struggle to get essential nutrients. In addition to eating a well-balanced diet, there are vitamins and dietary supplements that can improve mood, help maintain cognitive ability, and give you the energy you need for work and play.
Supplements and Your Lifestyle
National surveys show that nutrient deficiencies are relatively widespread in the United States. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 93 percent of Americans don’t get enough vitamin E, 56 percent don’t get enough magnesium, 44 percent don’t get enough vitamin A, 31 percent don’t get enough vitamin C, 14 percent don’t get enough vitamin B6, and 12 percent don’t get enough zinc.
More than one-third of American adults are overweight and another one-third are classified as obese. And while many of these people are exceeding caloric intake requirements, they’re still not getting enough nutrients. In other words, most Americans eat too much non-nutritious junk.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, many people may be at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
Women of childbearing age and pregnant women often don’t get enough folate, vitamin D, vitamin B6 and iron.
People on diets of less than 1,200 calories of day, people who don’t eat the right foods due to economic reasons and people who are obese don’t get enough vital nutrients in their diets, for different reasons.
People with dark skin, those 18 and younger, and people who use a lot of sunscreen often don’t get enough vitamin D.
Older adults often don’t get enough vitamin D or B12 or zinc.
People who abuse alcohol or use tobacco are often deficient in vitamins A, B, C and E.
There are two supplements that have received a lot of attention lately. One is folic acid. Women in their childbearing years or those who are pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Folic acid helps prevent spina bifida, a neural tube defect that develops during the first month of pregnancy.
There has also been lots of research about vitamin D and its importance in building strong bones. Vitamin D, which helps the immune system ward off illness and keeps the neuromuscular system functioning properly, also plays major roles in the life cycle of human cells. A vitamin D deficiency has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain, and other maladies.
Vitamin D is produced in the human body when the sun’s ultraviolet rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol, a steroid alcohol present in the skin. Vitamin D is also found in small amounts in food, especially fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. Twenty minutes of sunlight, three times a week, is usually enough time in the sun for people with light skin to produce the necessary vitamin D. However, folks with darker skin or the elderly, may require more time in the sun. How much sun your skin can soak up is also dependent on the time of the day or the season of the year. Magnesium is also essential for helping the body use vitamin D.
Vitamin D and folic acid supplements, when taken in the recommended amounts, are two of the most common supplements that are safe and easy to take. But if you are still feeling like something is not right, that you are tired all the time and don’t have the energy to do the things you love, you might want to consider talking to your physician about adding additional supplements to your diet.
Some people who are considering a vegetarian diet to lose weight or address health issues might also need to think about taking supplements.
While a well-balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the key nutrients you need, some vegetarians and especially vegans have a hard time getting enough of the following:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
Losing Weight Without Losing Key Nutrients
Reducing your caloric intake is one of the best ways to lose weight, but those on a weight loss program still need to get the appropriate nutrition. Part of losing weight is regular exercise, but if you’re not getting the right nutrients, you may not have the energy to exercise every day. And while you might be considering counting calories as a way to lose weight, crash diets or starving yourself can be counterproductive. That is definitely not the best way to lose weight. Reasonable portions with regular exercise and the addition of supplements can help you lose weight in a healthy manner without worrying you are not getting the right nutrition.
There are a number of supplements your doctor might recommend, including protein powder. Because your body burns more calories when it’s metabolizing protein, it can help you lose weight. Protein is also a necessary ingredient in muscle building.
Glutamine can help in the retention of muscle mass and in weight loss. If you don’t have enough glutamine, you might actually have problems losing weight. Adding glutamine to your diet while engaging in regular exercise can increase weight loss. Glutamine can be found in spinach, beans, and cabbage, but you might need to use a supplement to get enough, depending on your weight loss goals and activity level.
Matcha green tea is a very popular weight loss supplement because it contains EGCG, an antioxidant known to help boost metabolism during exercise. It comes in powder form, and for best results, it has to be used as part of a regular exercise and diet plan.
Fish oil has incredible amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower cholesterol and benefit overall heart health. One of the best things about omega-3s is they can stimulate enzymes that can kickstart the fat burning process in the body.
Vitamin D tells your body when it’s time to burn fat or store it. If you don’t get enough, sugars are converted into fat rather than energy. A low-calorie diet supplemented with vitamin D can facilitate weight loss.
A calcium supplement can actually help you lose weight. Drinking milk and other calcium-rich foods is one way to get calcium, but many people still benefit from taking a supplement.
Everyone loves olive oil, a good fat that is known to help people lose weight, but olive leaf extract is what makes olive oil so healthy. It can help balance your blood glucose levels, and balanced blood sugar levels mean fewer food cravings.
Carnitine, an amino acid that helps metabolize carbs and fat. Without enough, your body wants to store fat, rather than burn it for energy.
Certain probiotics can easily be added to your diet as well. Greek yogurt or fermented foods such as pickled veggies are good items to add to your diet to get probiotics in your system, and while eating a nutritious diet is the best way to get probiotics naturally, many people find that taking a probiotic supplement is also helpful.
Just taking supplements isn’t sufficient to lose weight. They have to be combined with a healthy diet that includes appropriate portions and regular exercise to keep the heart beating and the body burning fat.
Vitamins, Supplements, and Minerals Are Not Just for Losing Weight
Supplements are a good aid in losing weight, and they also can contribute to your overall health and mental well-being.
A little known fact is that certain vitamins can help alleviate gastrointestinal reflux disease, a common disorder that affects more than one-fifth of Americans. Reflux is painful, causes discomfort and can cause cancer if it’s not taken care of.
Acid reflux goes by many names, including heartburn, indigestion, GERD and GER. It happens when stuff in the stomach, including stomach acid, goes back up the esophagus.
Those suffering from reflux may also experience symptoms such as nausea, bad breath, frequent stomach pain, vomiting, teeth problems and trouble breathing or swallowing.
Up to 10 percent of the people suffering from reflux end up with burns, a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, that can lead to cancer.
While there are proven medications that can reduce the amount of acid your stomach produces, thereby reducing acid reflux, those medications also have risk of their own, such as damage to the kidneys and digestive issues.
One of the most effective treatments for reflux is looking at what you eat and what you do on a daily basis. Being overweight or obese are risk factors for GERD and acid reflux.
Doctors also often advise that people suffering from reflux avoid acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes, and stay away from garlic, salt, carbonated drinks, chocolate and alcohol.
Your doctor might also recommend supplements and vitamins that, such as B, D, A, C, and E that can help your body deal with acid reflux.
Reasons to Be Cautious When Taking Supplements
A mineral supplement is another good way to get the nutrients you need. But one thing you should be aware of before choosing what supplements to put in your body is that not all supplements are created equal.
With multivitamins and mineral supplements, there are no standardized definitions, and the composition of marketed products varies widely. In addition, the daily value listed on many supplement packages does not reflect the latest recommendations from the Food and Nutrition Board of the US Institute of Medicine. Unfortunately, most of the DVs are based on outdated recommendations made in 1968. Supplements not taken under the direction of healthcare professionals can be at odds with your goal to lose weight, exercise more, and increase your energy level.
Despite their overall safety, supplements aren’t always advisable for some people. That’s why it’s important to only take them with the help of a nutritionist or healthcare professional. Supplements might also be a problem for people who take certain pharmaceuticals for their particular medical conditions. Make sure you always consult with your medical practitioner before adding a supplement regimen to your diet.
The physicians within the BodyLogicMD network are ready to consult with you to discuss your current diet and activity level, and may suggest changes to your nutrition and exercise regimen that are specific to your needs. BodyLogicMD’s network of physicians can also analyze your body systems to see if your lack of energy or failure to lose weight is due to a hormonal imbalance. If it is, you might be a good candidate for bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.
Contact BodyLogicMD today to help determine if dietary supplementation is right for you and benefit from the expert advice of a network of physicians with advanced training in nutrition, hormones, and how to use both to help you reach your health goals.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.