In general, I advocate getting your nutrients from your food, not from supplements. This is for a few reasons: first, studies show that isolating nutrients from their natural, whole food state causes them to often interact differently (or not at all) in the body; second, many supplements are of low quality and not even absorbed much by the body; third, while naturally occurring forms of almost all vitamins haven’t been found to have a toxic limit, supplemental forms are a different story; and finally, for many, supplements seem to be an excuse to eat a poor diet, relying on vitamins and pills to overcome these chronic diet deficiencies.

However, there are likely only a handful of people who truly eat as well as we all should all of the time, (I am not among them!), making occasional supplementing often a good idea and a way to cover one’s bases, so to speak. With that in mind, here are a few of the supplements I would recommend, based on what I see most lacking in the average American’s diet.

1) Fish Oil – our country does a remarkably poor job getting a good dose of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are essential to our brain, cell membranes, hormones, and inflammatory (or anti-inflammatory) pathways. Most of use don’t eat the recommended minimal 2 servings of seafood a week or get regular doses of flaxseeds, walnuts, or chia seeds. On top of that, our diet is heavily reliant on grains and processed vegetable oils, all of which are high in omega-6 fatty acids, making the omega 3: omega 6 ratio way out of whack. Making a high quality fish oil supplement part of your daily routine is a great choice to support your overall health.

2) Probiotic – I won’t spend too much time on this one, as I’ve written about probiotics and gut health in past posts. Because our diets tend to be made up of a lot of processed foods and very few fermented foods with naturally occurring probiotics, taking a daily probiotic to keep your gut flora healthy and happy is pretty essential. Make sure whatever probiotic you choose has a variety of bacterial strains and requires refrigeration.

3) Prebiotic – less well known than its co-part, probiotics, prebiotics are indigestible fibers whose purpose is to feed the bacteria in our gut. Without prebiotics, the good gut flora you ingest from a probiotic has a difficult time thriving and keeping your gut healthy. You can give yourself probiotics over and over, but if you’re not feeding these healthy strains of bacteria, the bad bacteria is likely to take over anyway. There are some great prebiotic powders that mix right into smoothies, milk, yogurt, or oatmeal.

4) Vitamin D – the absolute best source of vitamin D is sunlight. However, most of us don’t live in a place or work hours that allow for year-round daily sun exposure. Ideally, you should aim for 10-15 minutes of unprotected sunlight each day, but cold climates, long work days, and abundant sunscreen usage often prohibits this. A quality vitamin D supplement can help make up the difference, especially for those who don’t do a lot of dairy. This is one of the most prevalent vitamin deficiencies in our country, and compromises bone and immune system health, among other things.

Want to know whether your supplements are doing you more harm than good and how to increase your overall diet quality to ditch the cupboard full of supplements? Come in for an assessment at CoreLife.

Aubrey Phelps MS RDN LDN