The Best Supplements to Complement Your DietJanuary 14th, 2021
More than 40 percent of people say they followed some kind of special diet last year, according to the 2020 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council. Why did so many eschew gluten and sugar, lean into copious amounts of healthy fats, or go fully plant-based? For nearly half of respondents, it was all in pursuit of feeling better and increasing energy. Which makes sense—who wouldn’t want that?
Even if you’re extra-conscious about what you eat, food alone may not provide all the nutrients you need. According to some doctors and nutrition experts, supplements can be a helpful tool to bridge the gaps in your diet and support you on the journey to feeling your best—in the new year, and beyond.
Why You Might Benefit From Supplements
In a perfect world, your diet would supply enough nutrients to render supplements unnecessary. But according to functional medicine physician and bestselling author Dr. Mark Hyman—who discusses supplements at length on an episode of his podcast, The Doctor’s Farmacy—achieving optimal nutrition through diet alone can be a tall order because of issues with the food system, everyday habits, and your unique, DNA-determined personal needs.
The food supply is plagued with problems. Prevalent industrial agricultural practices strip soil (and therefore, the fruits and vegetables grown in it) of beneficial nutrients. Produce often travels a long distance to reach U.S. grocery stores, requiring lengthy refrigeration and storage post harvest that can result in degradation of nutrients. In fact, Hyman says, the broccoli on your plate today is “a different food” from the broccoli people were eating 50 years ago, adding that today’s vegetables may have half the minerals they did decades ago.
Hyman notes that many lifestyle habits have nutrient-depleting effects. Chronic stress, heightened consumption of alcohol and processed food, and certain medications can all inhibit nutrient absorption and chip away at the body’s nutrient stockpiles.
Ultimately, your nutrient needs are unique. A third of your DNA codes for enzymes that trigger biochemical reactions, many of which affect your body’s levels of certain nutrients, Hyman explains. It’s always wise to check with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet or supplement routine, especially if you have preexisting conditions. A licensed health professional can also provide specific guidance about details like supplement dosage.
In the meantime, read on for our roundup of supplements to complement some of the most popular diets and lifestyles, as well as a few that offer potential benefits regardless of how you eat.
Best Supplements for the Paleo & Gluten-Free Diets
The majority of your immune system—as much as 70 percent—resides in your G.I. tract, so maintaining a healthy gut is essential to managing harmful chronic inflammation and supporting overall well-being. “Age-related diseases, as well as many autoimmune disorders, begin as inflammatory responses in the human body,” explains Bianca Overton, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach on Thrive Market’s Member Services Team.
So how do you regulate inflammation? Rachel Bauman, also an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at Thrive Market, says that the highly processed nature of gluten, a protein found in wheat, makes it a potential inflammation trigger. “Removing gluten from one’s diet may significantly reduce levels of inflammation in the body,” she adds. The paleo diet—which excludes grains, making it naturally gluten-free—is touted for its supposed anti-inflammatory and gut health benefits.
Along with stocking your fridge with high-quality proteins and fibrous vegetables, as the paleo diet requires, what else can you do in the name of a healthier gut? Try adding some collagen to the mix. You usually hear about this supplement in the context of its benefits for hair, skin, and nails, but Casey Bradford, a member of Thrive Market’s ECommerce Operations team and a Primal Health Coach, notes that you shouldn’t overlook its gut health perks. “Collagen is a structural protein that builds healthy connective tissue within your digestive tract,” he explains. Bradford adds that if bolstering your gut is your goal, l-glutamine is another nutrient to consider; this amino acid helps repair the intestinal lining.
To further tame inflammation, Overton recommends turmeric, calling it “the most important anti-inflammatory agent.” She also points to green tea, omega-3s, and a high-quality multivitamin as anti-inflammatory allies.
Best Supplements for the Keto Diet
Anyone who has experimented with the keto diet knows that ditching basically all carbs and loading up on nuts, cheese, butter, oil, and animal protein can sometimes result in unpleasant side effects. The so-called “keto flu,” characterized by irritability, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and G.I. issues, tends to appear within a few days to a week of going keto, according to Bailey Kaiser, a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach on Thrive Market’s Member Services team. While the effects should subside once your body adjusts, you can also tweak your routine to ease the transition. (If your symptoms persist beyond a few days, see your doctor.)
Rule number one? Hydrate. “Many of the symptoms of the ‘keto flu’ are also common symptoms of dehydration,” Kaiser explains, adding that high levels of ketones in the blood (which occurs during ketosis) can lead to dehydration. Simply put, water is your best friend on this high-fat diet.
“There are a few [supplements] on the market that may be just the right pick-me-ups for coping with ‘keto flu’ symptoms and supporting your body,” Kaiser says. “Deficiencies in magnesium, sodium, and potassium are common for those newly (and strictly) following a keto diet.” For extra minerals, try adding an super-hydrating electrolyte drink mix to all that water you’re drinking—a hack keto expert Thomas DeLauer suggests as well.
Best Supplements for Vegans
An increasing body of research points to a plant-based diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat, but even a diet that looks healthy on paper could be lacking in certain key nutrients.
Avoiding animal-based foods like meat and eggs could result in a vitamin B12 deficiency, since animal-based foods are the primary source of this nutrient that supports nervous system function, DNA synthesis, and cellular energy production. Alexa Silvers, a Member Services Agent at Thrive Market with a background in Clinical Nutrition (and a vegan herself) says a B12 supplement is a plant-based diet staple, and recommends B12-enriched products like nutritional yeast to up your intake.
Additionally, there are a few supplements vegans may skip because they can be difficult to find in plant-based form. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 fatty acid that supports heart and brain health, and many supplement brands source it from fish. However, it can also be found in certain algae, making it easier for plant-based eaters to take advantage of this important nutrient. Silvers adds that you can also source vegan omega-3s from flaxseeds or flax oil supplements.
You’ve heard about vitamin C being an immunity ally, but that’s not all it’s good for. Kaiser explains that while plenty of plant-based foods (such as beans, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens) offer the blood-building mineral iron, it’s of the non-heme variety, which is a less bioavailable form than the heme iron found in animal proteins. Kaiser suggests adding a vitamin C supplement to your routine (or combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods) since it’s been found to help boost absorption of non-heme iron.
Best Supplements for All Diets
Whatever your diet, our health coaches say these supplements offer potential benefits for all.
Vitamin D is often referred to as “the sunshine vitamin” since humans absorb most of it from sunlight. One problem there: depending on where and how you live, you may not get enough regular sun exposure to maintain optimal vitamin D levels. (For vegans, it can be especially tricky to get enough vitamin D since it doesn’t occur naturally in many foods aside from fish and dairy products.) Vitamin D deficiency can show up as fatigue, joint pain, mood issues, and muscle cramps.
Taking a daily probiotic supplement may help you maintain good gut health—and as we’ve already covered, that’s important no matter what diet you follow. “Beyond keeping your digestive tract humming, there is more and more evidence to support the notion that gut flora health is the key to overall physical and emotional health,” explains Zara Louy, a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach and member of Thrive Market’s Site Merchandising Team. Louy explains that intestinal health is linked to mood and brain function (since 90 percent of serotonin, the hormone connected to mental wellbeing, is produced in the gut), optimal immunity, and skin health. While you can get probiotics from fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, “supplementation allows for a greater amount of diversity of probiotic strains,” Louy says.
This do-it-all mineral is responsible for hundreds of enzyme reactions in the body, yet Dr. Hyman says nearly 70 percent of Americans don’t get enough. He recommends magnesium to many of his patients to support a range of issues, from digestion to stress and sleep. Note that if you have heart or kidney disease, you should speak to your doctor before adding magnesium to your routine.
Disclaimer: Information and statements regarding products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Results vary person to person, and there is no guarantee of specific results. Thrive Market assumes no liability for inaccuracies or misstatements about products. Information included in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. It is not intended to substitute for the advice, treatment and/or diagnosis of a qualified licensed professional.