Nutrition-related diseases run rampant in our communities today, as most Americans eat an excess of sodium, saturated fats and added sugars. This nutrition imbalance can damage your health, causing us to fall short on critical nutrients like dietary fiber, healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Only 1 in 10 Americans eat enough fruit or vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These gaps in our eating habits have many turning to supplements, which is why the dietary supplement industry made 152 billion dollars in 2021.
Some supplements can help get you closer to meeting your nutrition goals, enhance your body's function, increase your well-being and lower your risk of life-altering diseases. But it can be hard to know what's actually worth buying since most are totally unregulated.
Though some supplements can be helpful, they should never become substitutes for eating well but rather should complement a healthy lifestyle by helping to fill in potential gaps in the diet. And if you're wondering if you should take supplements for better health, it's important to first talk with your medical provider or registered dietitian.
Here are four supplements you should consider taking, according to a dietitian.
1. Omega 3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats primarily found in seafood, nuts, seeds and oils. The most common types are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They've made the top of our list because omega-3 fats are essential to heart, brain and vision health. Your body can't make them, so depending on omega-3-rich foods and supplements is a good way to make sure you're meeting your needs.
Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved omega-3 fatty acids as a way of treatment for people with high triglyceride levels, a significant risk factor in heart disease.
A 2019 Journal Of The American Heart Association meta-analysis examined 13 studies with a total of 127,477 participants. The study found that omega-3 supplementation reduced the chances of heart attack, coronary heart disease and dying from heart disease. With only 20% of Americans meeting the American Heart Association's recommendations for eating seafood twice a week, taking an omega-3 supplement could be a good way to stay on top of your health.
What to look for: There are many options for getting omega 3s in supplement form, whether in liquid, gummy or capsule form. You can opt for fish oil, algal oil, cod liver oil or seed oil varieties. To avoid fishy tastes, search for products known for good taste, so it's easy to take consistently.
How to take: The recommendations for daily intakes of ALA are 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women. There are no current recommended intake guidelines for EPA or DHA. Speak with your health care team about your personal omega-3 needs.
2. Vitamin D
Known as the "sunshine" vitamin, vitamin D plays a big role in keeping your bones, teeth, muscles, nerves and immune system in tip-top shape. Low levels may be associated with a host of conditions⸻depression, diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune disease and cancer. Since people generally under eat vitamin D foods, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans list vitamin D as one of several nutrients of public concern. About 42% of Americans aren't getting enough vitamin D through their diet, and this number doubles for African Americans (82%), followed by Hispanic Americans (63%). Vitamin D is available in cow's milk, egg yolks, mushrooms, fish, fortified cereals, fortified plant milk, yogurt and fortified orange juice.
What to look for: Choose a supplement that contains Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. This version of vitamin D is more readily available for our bodies to use than the other type, vitamin D2.
How to take: Adults should take at least 600 IUs of vitamin D daily. You can better absorb vitamin D with a meal that contains avocado, nut butter, cheese or another food that has fat. Speak with your medical provider about your personal vitamin D needs.
The digestive tract is home to a diverse population of microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi, and a lot of them actually benefit our health. These organisms collectively make up your gut flora. When there's an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, you're more at risk for inflammation and illness. Fermented foods such as yogurt, tempeh, kombucha and kimchi are sources of probiotics and help bring healthy bacteria to the gut. Research suggests probiotics may promote heart, mental, digestive, immune and vaginal health. Because gut health is closely tied to the health of our immune system, taking probiotics may be helpful to ward off health risks and maintain harmony in your digestive tract.
What to look for: Research suggests it's good to take probiotics with at least 1 million colony-forming units (CFUs) for effectiveness. Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii are well-researched strains; however, it is best to talk with your medical provider to determine which strains are suitable for your body.
How to take: Some probiotics are better to take on an empty stomach, while others may work best taken with a meal. Follow the package instructions of the brand your medical provider recommends.
For centuries, turmeric root has been widely used in several types of cuisine and medicine. It's touted for its health benefits from its bioactive compounds called curcuminoids. Its best-kept secret is curcumin, the most crucial curcuminoid turmeric posses. Studies have seen that curcumin helps fight against oxidative stress by picking up harmful substances in the body called free radicals, preventing inflammation. Oxidative stress is a normal part of your body's work to function, but if it gets out of hand, it can wreak havoc on your health.
Turmeric's anti-inflammatory properties may also protect against brain diseases by blocking inflammatory particles in brain and nerve cells. Furthermore, chronic inflammation can increase your risk for many chronic diseases, including diabetes, kidney disease, stroke, cancer and heart disease. Because everyone will experience some degree of inflammation in their bodies, taking turmeric regularly can help manage inflammation levels.
It's important to note that turmeric supplements might impact people differently based on their genetics, so be sure to talk to your doctor and healthcare team before starting any new supplements.
What to look for: There isn't a universal consensus on how much turmeric you should take. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) says a reasonable intake is 1.4mg per pound of body weight, which is about 245mg for a person weighing 175 pounds. When shopping for a turmeric supplement, always look for supplements containing black pepper for better absorption.
How to take: Take turmeric while eating foods that contain fat so your body can best absorb it.
The Bottom Line
One of the greatest gifts you can have in life is good health. The primary way to achieve good health is by eating nutrient-dense foods. While there's no perfect diet, supplements can help you reach your health goals and meet your body's nutrition needs when taken alongside a balanced eating pattern. You might consider taking omega 3s, vitamin D, probiotics or turmeric to make sure your needs are covered.
Though supplements can be a driver of good health, they can also be unsafe if not taken with caution and care. Be sure to consult with your medical provider for help in making the best choice for you.