Should I be taking a supplement?
Most people can get adequate amounts of the nutrients they need by consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods every day. Our bodies tend to absorb nutrients from food better than from supplements. Many supplements can be quite expensive to include. There are a few exceptions to this rule – you will need a vitamin D supplement in the winter, or if you’ve had a blood test showing that your levels of iron or B12 are low, and omega 3 supplements may have some benefits if you don’t like eating fish.
There are not a lot of good food sources of vitamin D. Our bodies make vitamin D when sunlight hits our skin. It’s important to take 1000IU vitamin D in the form of a supplement from October to April when the sun is not strong enough for our skin to synthesize vitamin D.
If you’ve had blood work showing that you have low levels of iron, it will be important to take a supplement in order to bring your levels back up into a normal range. Once in the normal range, it’s possible to keep your levels there by consuming iron-rich foods sources. If your iron levels are not low, taking a supplement will not have a positive effect on energy levels.
If you’ve had blood work showing that you have low levels of B12, it will be important to take a supplement in order to bring your levels back up into a normal range. Some people just do not absorb B12 well and may need to take B12 supplements long term. Since B12 is mostly found in animal foods, it may be a good idea for individuals following a vegan diet to take a B12 supplement.
Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish certainly have anti-inflammatory benefits. The evidence on omega 3 supplements is mixed. If you choose to take an omega 3 supplement, add up the amount of EPA and DHA and aim for 500mg per day. If you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet, you could consider algae based DHA supplements.
Protein powders can be convenient, but you can get all of the protein you need, and often at a lower cost, from whole foods. Keep easy to grab protein options on hand, such as milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, nut butter, and tuna.
Some people may feel that vitamin C boosts their immune system. There is some evidence that taking vitamin C supplements may reduce the duration of a cold or flu, so it can be okay to take vitamin C supplements for a few days while sick, but there is no benefit (and some risks!) to taking vitamin C supplements every day.
There are a great variety of calcium sources. Even if you have a dairy allergy or choose not to include it, you can meet your calcium needs by consuming calcium-rich foods such as sesame seeds, almonds, white beans, tofu, chia seeds, and fortified milk alternatives every day. If you have low bone density, however, it will be important to take a calcium supplement.
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