In this day and age, where our society is constantly on the move, it has become increasingly difficult to find the time to incorporate all of the nutrients our bodies need into our daily diets. While a trip through the drive-through on the way to soccer practice may be quick and easy, it doesn’t really give your body what it needs to perform at its best. That’s where dietary supplements can come in handy…if used properly!
1. Remember that nutrition is more important than supplements
Supplements are not meant to be an alternative to eating well; they are intended to be– just as the name implies–a supplement, or addition, to an otherwise healthy diet. While we all get too busy at times to eat a well-balanced diet at every single meal, you should not be using dietary supplements as the solitary source of your vitamin and mineral intake.
The best way to ensure that you have healthy meal options throughout the week is to plan out your meals ahead of time. Take the weekends to write out what you need for each meal for the week and get your grocery trip out of the way. Go ahead and cook something that you can store to eat on your more busy days. Crockpot meals are also great for days when you don’t have a lot of extra time. There are also a lot of nutrient packed meals that can be thrown together quickly. For example, you can pick up some baked fish or chicken and steamed vegetables that you can just throw in the microwave when you are strapped for time.
Another great way to get quick nutrition is through choosing nutrient-dense foods. These foods pack a lot of nutrients without empty calories. Some great options include:
- Kale is a powerhouse of nutrients, filled with Vitamin C, Vitamin, Vitamin K, and numerous antioxidants.
- Salmon is packed with heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Blueberries are one of the best fruits to add to your diet. They are packed with vitamins and antioxidants to improve memory and overall brain health, enhance mood, and decrease blood pressure.
- Eggs are not only a great source of protein, but also an easy source of vitamins. For those days when you don’t have time to cook, prepare some hard-boiled eggs in advance.
- Nuts are an easy snack for on the go that are packed with protein to give you energy and curb your cravings, along with a good source of healthy fats.
- Consult your doctor prior to starting new supplements
Before your doctor prescribes any medication for you, he always gets a list of medications and supplements that you are already taking. The reason for this is obvious, he wants to make sure that there will not be any negative interactions between the two. The same safety measures should be taken when you choose to take a new over-the-counter medication or supplement. Many can have serious side effects when taken with other medications or in individuals suffering from specific chronic disorders.
Some supplements that should not be taken if you are on any of the following commonly prescribed medications may include:
- Statins: If you take this category of medication, you should not combine it with vitamin E or St. John’s Wort because they may decrease its effectiveness. Pomegranate extract should also be avoided, as it may cause dangerously high levels of the drug to build up in your blood.
- Antihypertensive: Those who are taking ACE inhibitors to control their blood pressure should avoid taking an iron supplement within two hours of taking their medications because it may interfere with the absorption rate. Capsaicin should also be avoided because it may increase negative side effects of your blood pressure medication, such as increased coughing.
- Diuretics: If you are taking a thiazide medication to control your blood pressure, avoid Gingko Biloba and willow bark. Both of these may lead to increased blood pressure. Conversely, taking medications to decrease bloating alongside a diuretic (horsetail, senna, licorice, cascara, uva ursi) may lead to severe dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance.
- Oral Diabetic Medications: If you are taking oral medications to control your diabetes, you need to avoid Gingko Biloba, because it may increase your blood sugar level. Vanadium, ginseng, Gymnema, chromium, and bitter melon may decrease your blood sugar to an unhealthy level.
- Thyroid Medication: Calcium and Iron supplements may decrease the efficacy of the medication, altering your thyroid levels.
- Blood Thinners: Gingko Biloba and Vitamin E can increase your risk of bleeding if you are taking a blood thinner. Both Ginseng and St. John’s Wort may decrease the effectiveness of the medication.
These are just a few supplements that are suggested that you avoid while taking common medications. It is still advisable to always consult your doctor prior to taking a new supplement of any kind. Supplements are not held to the same strict guidelines as prescription drugs and should only be taken with the full knowledge and approval of your physician.
3. Read the label carefully
Labels are a company’s best form of advertisement, so, of course, they are packaged to sell. They want the consumer to believe that their product can do whatever the customer is looking for at the time. The packaging and informational literature of dietary supplements are not held to the same standards as medications, so it is up to you to read the label carefully to know exactly what you are purchasing and decide if it is appropriate for you.
Do your own research; don’t just take the company’s word for it. Look up each active ingredient and verify that it actually does what the company claims. Make sure you know what the overall importance of each active ingredient is, and make sure that there are not any negative side effects. The internet is a wealth of information, allowing you to find reviews and studies that will either substantiate or contradict the manufacturer’s assertions.
4. Read reviews and blogs.
If something sounds too good to be true, it typically is. There is not any supplement out there that is going to transform you overnight. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies just looking to make a quick buck, and they don’t care who they have to scam to do it. As the consumer, it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure that the product you are purchasing is both safe and effective. The easiest way to do that is by getting the educated opinion of neutral parties.
Look for reputable health & fitness blogs online that give the pros and cons of the product you are planning on purchasing. Most of them have supplement reviews sections like this one.
Ask yourself questions like:
Has the supplement been reviewed by medical journals or healthcare professionals?
The more positive reviews that you can find by doctors, scientists, pharmacists, or other healthcare professionals, the greater likelihood that the supplement actually does what it says it does.
Do you see a lot of similar complaints on various sites?
If multiple people are all seeing the same negative side effects or are not seeing the positive ones that they were expecting, then you may want to reconsider your purchase before wasting your money.
Search for clinical studies performed by those who have no stake in the company that backs up the claims that the manufacturer has made. Studies performed by prestigious universities or ones published in medical journals are usually a good source of evidence that the supplement has been proven effective in others suffering from the same issues that you are having. Many of these studies can be found quickly on the internet.
- Don’t overdo it!
As it turns out, you actually can have too much of a good thing. For years, researchers and consumers alike thought that the more vitamins and nutrients a supplement had, the better. But what we are coming to find out is that an excess of certain nutrients can actually be harmful to our bodies. There is a reason why the FDA determines a Recommended Daily Allowance, and that is because our bodies can only process a certain amount of a particular nutrient. Any surplus either builds up in the body, leading to potential problems, or is excreted through sweat and urine. Having large amounts of any substance, even ones that are deemed healthy, is hard on the liver, which processes a majority of the drugs that you take.
Some of the more common vitamins that can be dangerous when taken in excess include:
- Vitamin A is a great nutrient for eye health, but when taken to the extreme it may create more problems than it solves. Taking large amounts of vitamin A over an extended period of time has been shown to lead to birth defects, liver damage, osteoporosis, Central Nervous System disorders, and in extreme cases, death.
- Vitamin E is no longer recommended by some to be taken orally in a pill form. There is some evidence that when taken on a regular basis in high levels that it could lead to cancer. It is better to get this nutrient through diet alone.
- Vitamin C is not necessarily dangerous, but it does not benefit you to take more than the Daily Recommended Allowance. Many supplements have as much as 1000% of the daily recommend dose, suggesting that it will help combat colds and other sickness. However, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin so the excess amount really does no good, because it is just excreted out in the urine. It may, however, cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach upset when taken in large quantities.
While supplements can be a great way to quickly and easily consume your daily nutritional needs, it is important to fully understand the benefits and possible side effects of the supplements you are taking and to take them in moderation. An excess of anything is never a good thing. Discuss any new supplement with your healthcare professional prior to use. Even if a supplement has been proven beneficial for others, that does not mean it is safe for you. Each person is different; what works for one may not work for everyone. When you are well informed and under the guidance of your physician, supplements can be a safe and effective way to remain healthy.