Navigating the Supplement Aisle – Which Vitamins Should You Take?
A Guide to Choosing the Right Vitamin or Mineral Supplement
Answering the question “what vitamins and supplements should I be taking?”
These days, many of us are developing a keen interest in nutrient supplementation as a way to optimize health, improve digestion, prevent deficiency, and so much more! But the world of supplements and vitamins can be so overwhelming, to the point where you might find yourself standing in the supplement aisle (or the supplement STORE!!), bewildered by the array of choices.
We know that vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in supporting overall well-being, but selecting the right supplement can be a challenge. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the process of determining if you need to take supplements, and how to choose a high-quality vitamin or mineral supplement tailored to your individual needs.
Do I need to take vitamins or supplements?
Before we start to talk about choosing the right vitamin or supplement, we need to address some key foundational pillars of nutrition. I always view supplements as a “safety net” or “optimizer” versus our sole source of nutrients, so before you start looking at supplements, check in to see if you’re achieving these three basics regularly. We’re not looking for perfection, just patterns:
- Timing & Spacing of Meals: do you eat regularly most days? Aim to incorporate meals and snacks every 3-5 hours throughout the day to offer multiple opportunities for nutrient digestion and absorption!
- Balancing Meals: do you follow the Balanced Meal Method? Are you incorporating a variety of grains/starches, fruits, veggies, and proteins in meals? This framework helps to ensure you are getting a balance of macro- and micro-nutrients daily. Supplements should be a complement to a balanced diet, not the baseline!
- Lifestyle Factors: how are you managing other pillars of wellness such as sleep and stress reduction? Certain lifestyle factors, such as high stress and a chronic lack of sleep can impact nutrient absorption from both food AND supplements.
Which vitamins or supplements should I be taking?
From supporting immune function to promoting bone health and beyond, micronutrients are the unsung heroes of our well-being. However, with so many options on the market, it’s essential to navigate the supplement aisle with knowledge and purpose. One size does not fit all when it comes to supplements. Your age, gender, health conditions, and lifestyle all play a role in determining your unique nutritional requirements. Recognizing the importance of individualized nutrition sets the foundation for making informed decisions about the supplements that will benefit you the most.
I strongly recommend completing a thorough nutrition assessment with one of our Registered Dietitians, as they can provide personalized recommendations about ways to optimize nutrient intake from both food and supplements. However, in my practice, there are three common supplements that I find most people benefit from taking, listed in order of importance:
1. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium and phosphorus from food, which is important for bone strength. It also plays a role in how our immune system functions and may play a role in helping to prevent inflammatory disease.
It’s difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food sources, and because we live so far north of the equator (making enough sun exposure difficult, another way the body produces Vitamin D), it’s recommended that we all take a supplement. Most adults can supplement 1000-2000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily, but make sure you chat with your healthcare team to make sure you’re taking the right dose for you.
2. Omega 3
Omega-3 fats are essential fatty acids that are known to have a variety of beneficial anti-inflammatory impacts in the body, including roles in cardiovascular health, cognitive health, and gut health. For many of my clients who don’t love fatty fish, or don’t eat it often enough (I encourage at least 2-3 times per week!), an omega-3 supplement is a great way to ensure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient regularly, even if your fish intake fluctuates from week to week.
This is the third most common supplement that I tend to see come up in my practice. In general, it’s safer to start with multivitamins to cover all your micronutrient bases, rather than jumping to individual nutrient supplementation. This reduces the risk of over-supplementation (as you CAN have too much of a good thing!).
How do I choose a High-Quality Supplement?
The world of supplements can feel like the wild, wild west. Choosing a high-quality supplement is important for ensuring effectiveness and safety. You want to trust that what’s on the label is actually in the bottle! Here are some criteria to consider:
- Look for a Natural Product Number (NPN): Look on your labels for an 8-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) – these products are issued a license by Health Canada, which means that they have been assessed and found to be safe, effective, and of high quality for their recommended use. You can look up these products in the Health Canada database HERE.
- Third-Party Testing and Certifications: Look for supplements that undergo third-party testing for quality and purity. Certifications from organizations like NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Choice provide an added layer of assurance.
- Form of the Nutrient: Opt for supplements that contain bioavailable forms of the nutrient. For example, choose methylated forms for B vitamins (as they are more easily absorbed by the body) or the active form of Vitamin D (cholecalciferol, also known as Vitamin D3).
- Reading and Understanding Labels: Become familiar with supplement labels. Pay attention to dosage levels and serving sizes to ensure you’re getting the right amount for your needs.
So, there you have it! I hope those tips are helpful the next time you are navigating the supplement aisle. Keep in mind that when it comes to supplementation, more isn’t always better – excessive intakes of certain vitamins or minerals can have adverse health effects. While these are general guidelines, I always recommend connecting with your healthcare team (doctor, dietitian, and/or pharmacist) to receive personal advice that is tailored to your individual needs.
Are you interested in receiving personal nutrition support? Our team of Registered Dietitians can help!
Our Registered Dietitian team specializes in nutrition for mental health, meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health and more. Find out more about our Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.
As trained Registered Dietitians, you can count on us for credible advice and practical meal planning so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you.
Want to keep learning? Check out these blog posts below:
Disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, chronic disease
One of the first things you’ll notice about Britney is her energy, zest for life and love of food! Britney is passionate about supporting her clients in developing a healthy and satisfying relationship with food and their bodies, allowing them to live life to the fullest. Britney specializes in disordered eating, intuitive eating, mental health, digestive health, emotional eating, and chronic disease.