In today’s culture a diet is often seen as something you do to lose weight or get in better shape. There are numerous “diets” to help you accomplish that goal, but technically, your diet is anything that you consume. Your diet could consist of mostly fast food and eating out or it could be all home cooked meals made from organic ingredients. Whatever your typical meal looks like you may be missing out on some important nutrients your body needs. This is where dietary supplements come in to play. These supplements help to provide you with nutrients that you may lack in your typical diet. There are all kinds of different supplements you can use and it’s hard to know the differences between them.
Botanical or Herbal
These are plants or parts of plants that are used for medicinal or therapeutic purposes.
Even though the FDA does not regulate botanical supplements, not any plant can be considered an herbal or botanical supplement. There are specific regulations that have to be met in order for them to be called a supplement. It must be labeled as intended to supplement one’s diet and it must contain one or more dietary ingredients, such as a vitamin or amino acid. There are many different forms of botanical supplements, all of which must be taken orally, one of the most popular of these is tea. You take the ingredient, either fresh or dried and steep it in boiling water to create a tea. Capsules or tablets are also popular forms of herbal and botanical supplements.
Vitamins & Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are by far the most popular dietary supplement. In a recent survey, by The Council for Responsible Nutrition, 97% of respondents that took regular dietary supplements took one that would be categorized as a vitamin or mineral. With the introduction of multivitamins it makes it even easier to get the necessary nutrients that may be lacking from your diet. If you are looking to take a multivitamin, be sure that you are getting the correct type for your age and gender. It is important to know that not all multivitamins are created the same, so it’s a good idea to know what you are hoping to get out of your vitamin before making your purchase. Certain multivitamins will contain more of one ingredient than others; such as some multivitamins for seniors may have higher vitamin D, while others may have more antioxidants.
Fatty Acids can be a confusing category with names like ALA, DHA, EPA and omega-3. Don’t let these intimidating letters stop you from exploring the benefits they offer though. Essential Fatty acids, or EFAs, help in a wide range of areas such as cardiovascular health, joint health and even mental function. These EFAs are generally found in capsules, but come in liquid form as well. Similar to multivitamins, there are combinations of multiple EFAs that can provide you with the right nutrients you need.
There are many different reasons that you may take a dietary supplement; for health reasons, to help prevent disease, or maybe you just don’t get the right nutrients in your diet. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets, just to name a few, are specific diets that may lack in certain nutrients. People with a gluten free diet, such as those with celiac disease, often have deficiencies in many areas. Melinda Dennis, R.D., nutrition coordinator of the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, tests new clients for “iron levels, B vitamins like folate and B12, Vitamin D and zinc. If clients have fat malabsorption, we look at vitamins A, E and K, too.”
For vegetarian and vegan diets removing meats or all animal product like dairy can make getting essential nutrients more difficult. A recent study by the University of Eastern Finland looked at the diets and nutritional intake of those following a vegan diet versus those that do not. Those following vegan diets were lacking in vitamin D, beta-carotene, EPA and DHA fatty acids, and others. A majority of them did take vitamin B-12 supplements and some took vitamin D supplements, as well as drinking calcium-fortified drinks. Taking those supplements was beneficial in bringing up their values to be in line with the control group.
When life-long vegetarian Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, registered dietitian, nutritionist, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was asked for her recommendation on supplements, her top choices were B12, D, calcium, omega 3 fats, iron, and zinc. She also recommended taking a look at additional add-ons based off your specific diet’s typical inadequacies. Then take real look at what you eat and meet with a registered dietitian to determine holes in your diet. This is the most important part when figuring out what supplements to take and in what quantities. So do your research, meet with a dietary professional, and be healthy!