It's difficult to get all of our nutritional needs in food alone. Taking supplements can be beneficial, whether it's for a medical condition or to help us meet our dietary requirements. They typically have less, if any, side effects in comparison to pharmaceutical drugs.
But if you do decide to go this route, it's very important to research the supplements you plan on taking. Understand its benefits and disadvantages; its efficacy; contraindications; recommended dosage based on your sex, age, and weight. Brands are made of varying quality, so look at how it's manufactured if available. Consider the source of your research articles - are they written by a reputable source? Are the studies supporting its efficacy well-designed, or is there a marketing bias to the article? Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so you must accept this risk and do your research if you're considering adding it to your diet. However, it can also be very rewarding. Just remember to not take too many supplements in relation to regular food and to take as directed. For those whose stomach's are especially sensitive to supplements, this could be a sign that you are using a synthetic form of the nutrient that doesn't agree with you or you don't have enough healthy bacteria in your digestive system. Taking probiotics either through food sources or as a supplement for 2 weeks prior to other supplementation can help in this case.
For herbal supplements, make sure you understand which part of the plant contains the key ingredient that provides the purported health benefits. It may be the root, leaves, or another specific part of the plant. Cheap supplements will often contain parts of the plant which provide diminished benefits. Understand what the active ingredient is, the supplement's potency, and the amount that each dose contains. Supplements with "super critical extracts" are of the highest potency, and therefore require less than other supplements. The higher quality supplements will usually provide this level of detail in the nutritional label and will also be pure with few additional ingredients. Gaia is one high quality brand to look for.
When you have a choice between buying pills in a smaller or larger dosage, it’s usually best to go with the smaller dosage that you can take more frequently over the course of the day (also known as divided doses). This increases the absorption level and gives your body a steady supply of the supplement. Along those same lines, avoid mega dosing. Some people take large doses of certain vitamins like C, but it's harmful and should be avoided. There are studies that show a high intake of vitamin C (specifically, somewhere over 2000 mg from a synthetic source) can cause atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. The best thing to do is set a dietary goal of meeting the Adequate Intake (AI) level without exceeding the tolerable Upper Intake (UI) unless otherwise indicated by a doctor (see Nutrient Calculator).
Remember to take your multi-vitamins or any other supplements containing vitamins A, D, E, and K with some food that has a small amount of fat. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they dissolve with fat.
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If you'd like to take the evaluation of your supplements 1 step further, you can also get a $30 1-year membership to ConsumerLab.com. They perform independent testing of nutritional products and also provide information on recalls and warnings. Some approved products will display the ConsumerLab seal of approval. The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) provides similar services with the addition of medicines and food ingredients. Products that meet their reference standards will contain the "USP" seal/ certification on the packaging.
Most people would benefit from the core supplements below, and adding other nutrients such as anti-oxidants and fiber as needed. A more detailed explanation of these supplements is available through other links in this section.
I would also recommend that if you don’t get enough greens in your diet, try Green Vibrance by Vibrant Health or Greens Protein 8 in 1 by Olympian Labs. They're made mostly from quality organic ingredients and will round out your nutritional profile very nicely. They contain a good amount of fiber, enzymes, antioxidants, and probiotics among other things. It's great for convenience, however juicing with fresh veggies will be your most nutritious route.
You can find quality supplements at places like Whole Foods, Sprouts, GNC, and other places that specialize in health supplements. For the most part, what you'll find in supermarkets and drug stores are low quality and not as fresh since it takes them longer to cycle through their inventory. Purchasing supplements online is another easy way to get your preferred supplements.