Sylvia Meo, R.D.
Supplements: What I Take Daily and Why You Should Take Them Too
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Many Canadians have inadequate intakes of magnesium, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D, as well as potassium and fiber. A 2015 Canadian Health Measures Survey also showed that close to 40% of us are not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Not meeting the recommended requirements of various nutrients can alter bodily functions and processes, negatively impact optimal growth and development, and put us at an increased risk for various diseases such as osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
For all of these reasons, and many more, I strongly believe that supplements are a great way to, not replace, but as the word implies “supplement” our already healthy diets and top up our nutrient intakes, especially those that are essential to our bodies for optimal health.
The Foodful Life Tips:
Always buy from a reputable company.
Make sure you see an eight digit Natural Product Number (NPN) on the label, this confirms the product has been inspected by Health Canada and is deemed to be safe, effective and of high quality.
Look for third-party affiliations/testing logos on the products, this ensures the company submitted their product for quality and/or purity testing.Examples of logos to look for: Certified Organic (made with organic fruits, vegetables and herbs), Non-GMO Project Verified, Kosher, etc.
A One-a-Day Multivitamin
A multivitamin can never replace a healthy diet, but as stated above most of us don’t seem to be able to achieve our nutrient needs daily with food alone. For this reason, I recommend taking a good quality one-a-day multivitamin to fill in the nutrient gaps, think of it as an insurance policy to protect you against possible deficiencies. This is especially important on days when you know your diet is lacking due to lack of variety or frequently skipped meals, for women of child bearing age for whom folic acid can prevent neural tube defects in babies and iron supplementation are beneficial, women who are menstruating and require more iron (18 mg per day), vegans who don’t eat animal foods and need iodine supplementation, adults over 50 whose ability to absorb vitamin B12 from foods is reduced, etc.
A basic multivitamin and mineral supplement contains most of the vitamins and minerals we need in a day and in the amounts that can help us reach our daily recommended needs.
The Foodful Life Tips:
Many multivitamin brands and formulations exist on the market, I recommend you read the labels to find one that meets your specific needs.
Look for products that contain high quality ingredients that are found in their most absorbable form (ex. calcium citrate vs calcium carbonate, magnesium citrate vs magnesium oxide, zinc picolinate vs zinc oxide or sulfate, etc.). You can find more details about high quality forms of vitamins and minerals on this page.
Brands that are certified organic and/or are made with real whole foods, like New Chapter and Naturelo (both are suitable for vegetarians, Naturelo is also vegan) vs. made from all synthetic sources are an interesting choice. Look for a one-a-day type, as many natural multivitamins may require that you take several capsules daily to meet your nutrient needs.
Make sure that the inactive or “other” ingredients are specified on the packaging and if this list is too long or contains fillers, artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives (silicon, BHT, sodium benzoate, propylene glycol, etc.), wheat, lactose, GMOs, hydrogenated oils, stearates, etc., beware!
Always take your multivitamin with food rather than on an empty stomach as it increases absorption and prevents queasiness. New Chapter multivitamins are interesting because they are fermented with probiotics making it easier on the stomach and more bioavailable.
If you take medication, make sure the brand you choose doesn’t contain any ingredient that is contraindicated for your condition. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you are uncertain.
Vitamin D plays an important role in immune function by improving our resistance against certain diseases, it is vital to normal growth and development of bones and teeth, in regulating mood and warding off depression, boosting weight loss, enhancing muscle strength, improving heart disease risks and reducing the risk of colorectal cancer, and perhaps even other types of cancer.
Because it is produced naturally by our bodies when directly exposed to sunlight, vitamin D is also commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin”. In fact, just 15 minutes of sun exposure per day is sufficient for most of us to produce our daily vitamin D requirements! Living in Canada’s colder climate and long dark winter months or endless gray spring days, getting enough vitamin D from the sun’s rays can prove challenging! (*if you are dark skinned, obese, regularly use sunscreen, follow a strict vegan diet, have a condition which reduces your intestine’s ability to absorb vitamin D you may need more than just 15 minutes).
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D; fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, tuna), shrimps, egg yolks, liver, mushrooms (exposed to sunlight) and cheese. Certain foods, although not many, are fortified in vitamin D, such as milk, many non-dairy or plant-based beverages and some brands of orange juice.
The Foodful Life Tips:
I typically recommend supplementing with 1000 IU of vitamin D daily year round. The ideal dosage is about 20-25 IU per pound of weight, but do not go over the maximum recommended dose of 4000 IU per day.
Make sure to choose a supplement that contains only vitamin D3, the form that is most similar to the vitamin D produced by our skin from exposure to sunlight.
Like vitamin D, fish oil supplements are another essential supplement that is a cornerstone of good health! When I talk about fish oils, I refer to those that contain omega 3 fatty acids exclusively. Often times you will find products that contain a mixture of omega oils, namely omega 3 and omega 6. Most of us already get more than enough omega 6 fatty acids in our diets and don’t need to add more as too much may increase inflammation and other health risks. Omega 3 fats are the ones you never want to skimp on, they are essential to our bodies, the two crucial ones being EPA and DHA fatty acids which are found in fish. Oily/fatty fish contain the most EPA and DHA. They provide many health benefits including a reduced risk of heart disease, enhanced joint function, enhanced visual and neurological development in babies, reduced risk of depression and anxiety, reduced risk of macular degeneration, etc. Ideally, we would all eat a minimum of two to three servings (3-4 ounces) a week of 100% wild-caught salmon, sardines, mackerel or anchovies, but for many that isn’t very realistic and therefore supplements are recommended.
The Foodful Life Tips:
Choose a high quality fish oil that has been highly purified and tested to ensure it doesn’t contain any PCBs or heavy metals.
Look for a product that uses fish oil that is sustainably sourced and from short-lived fish species (salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel) that are not bottom feeders and pick up less contaminant.
I recommend taking one omega-3 capsule that contains ideally 1000 mg (1 g) of EPA and DHA (combined amount). Confirm this amount by looking at the actual amount of EPA and DHA that is indicated in the supplement facts table on the back/side of the bottle. Naturelo offers one of the highest doses of EPA and DHA per capsule on the market and it is in triglyceride form, making it more bioavailable and easily absorbed than regular fish oil.
As I have already discussed in great detail during my Global News Montreal segment on gut health and in this post, probiotics are extremely important and play a significant role in our total wellbeing and health! These good bacteria help us digest and better absorb the nutrients from the food we eat, boost our immunity, improve mental health, mood and cognitive function, and so much more. Unfortunately, poor diet (sugar, GMOs, etc.), aging, stress, exposure to toxins, pollution and pesticides, frequent use of certain medications (birth control, acid suppressants, NSAIDs, Steroids, etc.) and antibiotics can wreak havoc in our system and cause the bad bacteria to get out of control. The best way to maintain a good bacterial balance is to eat fermented foods daily (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, etc.), but that too isn’t always possible and that’s why I recommend taking a probiotic supplement every day, even on the days you are getting your full dose of fermented foods and drinks! There are so many different probiotics available on the market; here are my tips for choosing the right one.
The Foodful Life Tips:
Look for a product that contains at least 5 billion CFU of live and active bacteria (guaranteed until the expiration date) per serving and take one dose per day. Most studies have shown that higher doses produce the best results (Bio-K+, Hyperbiotics, Naturelo), but some probiotics are also very effective at a dosage lesser than 5 billion CFU. A good example would be the Jamieson Probiotic Sticks which have 3 billion CFU per stick.
Choose a product that contains Lactobacillus and/or Bifidobacterium which are two of the most valuable and beneficial species of bacteria for gut health, and that contains a variety of strains (ex. L. acidophilus, L. casei and L. rhamnosus are three probiotic strains of the Lactobacillus bacteria found in Bio-K+). More strains is not always better, you need to make sure that the strains have been tested together and studied (in Canada probiotic claims must be proven and scientifically supported) to ensure they work synergistically together and don’t outcompete each other, making the probiotic less efficient than one with a lesser number of strains. The manufacturer’s website will have this information. Also, to ensure synergy between the strains, don’t take two different probiotic products at the same time.
For dry probiotics (capsules, tablets, powders, etc.), look for a probiotic that has an enteric coating or time-release delivery to ensure the probiotic survives passage through the stomach’s acidity.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation on how to properly store the probiotic as some may need to be kept refrigerated.
Make sure to follow a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes as these foods provide prebiotics (type of fiber found in many plant-based foods) for the probiotics in your gut to feed off and grow. Many companies have formulated prebiotic supplements to help us meet those needs more readily. Look for a product whose ingredients are food-based instead of synthetic; Hyperbiotics Prebiotic is a great example!
This is a supplement that has recently grown in popularity. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It makes up 70% of the protein in our skin, hair, nails, muscles, bones, blood vessels, tendons and digestive system, think of it as the glue that holds our body together! Our body’s natural collagen production peaks in our early twenties and then begins to slowly decline as of 25 by about 1.5% per year. Research has shown that the body’s ability to produce collagen by the age of 40 has decreased by 25%, and by the age of 60 it has decreased by over 50%! Other things like sun exposure, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and a diet high in sugar also decrease collagen production. The result? Sagging skin, dry hair, wrinkles, digestive issues, joint pain, etc.
Studies have shown that collagen may help maintain joint health, improve pain associated with joint degeneration, improve skin elasticity, reduce fine lines, treat dry, brittle hair, optimize immune function, improve gut health and digestion and promote deeper sleep. We can get collagen through our diets, some of the best sources being gelatinous meats, cartilage on bones, gelatin or bone broth, fish and poultry skin, but again it is not always easy to eat these foods daily to support our body’s collagen needs. Taking high quality collagen powder daily, such as Sproos and Vital Proteins, gives your body the key ingredients necessary for collagen synthesis.
The Foodful Life Tips:
Look for a product that contains hydrolyzed collagen peptides as this is the form in which the amino acid chains are broken down into smaller units making it bioavailable and with the strongest absorption rate.
Not all collagen is created equally; there are 16 different types of collagen within the human body. You want to get a product that has Type I and Type III collagen as these are the ones most found in our bodies. Choose a grass-fed bovine collagen (grass-fed cow or beef collagen) as it contains the collagen (Type I and III) that is most created and found in the human body. Wild-caught fish or marine collagen is also a great choice as it has the best bioavailability and absorption rate due to its smaller particles, although it mostly provides Type I collagen. Chicken collagen is rich in Type II collagen, but nonetheless also has its benefits.
Choose an unflavored product in order to avoid any added sugars. You can mix it into hot or cold liquids making it perfect for adding to a smoothie, soup, yogurt, your favorite drink and even baked goods. Although, if you would like to drink it as is, and would rather it be flavored but have no sugar added, my two favorite brands Sproos and Vital Proteins offer enhanced collagen products which you can think of as a refreshing sugar-free beverage with added benefits.
Make sure to also consume foods rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, kiwis, papayas, bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries and broccoli) as it plays a vital role in collagen synthesis.
This one is not conventionally considered a supplement; it is a food, more specifically a functional food, a food that provides health benefits beyond basic nutrition! Flax seeds are a good source of protein, and a great source of fiber, essential, healthy omega 3 fatty acids (ALA type) and lignans, a powerful antioxidant. These nutrients may protect us against cancer, diabetes and heart disease (reduce cholesterol and blood pressure). I have been adding flax seeds to my daily breakfast routine for well over the past 10 years and I urge you to get on board if you haven’t already.
The Foodful Life Tips:
Make sure to buy ground organic flax seeds to reap its full benefits or buy whole seeds and grind them yourself. Consumed whole our body can’t digest its hard nutty shell leaving us unable to absorb all of its nutrients and instead they will pass straight through our body and mainly act as a laxative.
Aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons daily. You can sprinkle or add some to your cereal or oatmeal, salad, yogurt, cottage or ricotta cheese, smoothie or shake, on your nut butters, mix into your baked goods or pancake and muffin batters, etc. They offer a simple way to boost the nutritional value of your foods in a cinch! They also make a great vegan substitute for eggs: simply mix 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and voilà!, you have replaced one whole egg in your recipe!
Make sure to store them in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer (or in their original packaging just remove excess air when you seal the bag).
There is really not much difference between brown or golden flax seeds, same as white or brown eggs; it’s essentially just a color!
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