Take a look at labels on supplements, and you'll see promises like fat loss, muscle gain and reversed signs of aging plaster nearly every one. And with more than 29,000 dietary supplements to choose from, there’s no wonder you feel uncertain about which ones are more show than substance. That’s why we asked Chris Mohr, RD, a nutrition and weight-loss expert of Mohr Results and consulting sports nutritionist for the Cincinnati Bengals, to separate the proven performers from the over-packaged junk. Here are his top 10 supplements -- sensational marketing claims not included.
1. Fish Oil
Fish oil is known for delivering omega-3s. These are essential fats your body can’t make on its own, so you have to get them from your diet. Even if you eat fish one to two times per week, you won’t be taking in enough omega-3s to meet your body’s needs. By taking a high-quality fish oil supplement, you can reduce triglycerides, lower your risk of heart disease, improve recovery from exercise, protect your brain health and potentially lower your risk of diabetes. Omega-3s may even help with losing body fat. When choosing a supplement, look for brands that provide a minimum of 2 grams of EPA and DHA (two of the three amino acids in omega-3s) daily.
Plenty of data has suggested that the majority of Americans have less than optimal levels of Vitamin D. That’s not surprising -- the nutrient is tough to get from food (though canned salmon, milk and sardines are all good sources), and the only other method is sunlight. If you live north of Atlanta, the sun isn’t strong enough from November to March for you to make sufficient amounts. And even when you're outside, most people are covered with clothing and/or sunscreen. Most experts agree that supplementing with at least 1000 IUs daily is a good start.
Whey protein is not an essential supplement, but it's a good one to have on hand. Because whey is high in branched-chain amino acids, it can aid workout recovery. More importantly, whey protein is a quick, convenient source of quality calories. Add some to fruit or a scoop of nut butter, and you have a perfect on-the-go meal that takes 60 seconds to make.
While not a replacement for fruits and vegetables, greens supplements (fruit and vegetable concentrates) are a good "insurance policy" if your produce consumption is less than idea. Less than six percent of men and nine percent of women age five to 34 consume the recommended minimum five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Greens can help fill this void. They're especially handy when real produce is hard to come by, like during times of heavy travel.
Here’s the deal -- there are millions of different strains of bacteria in your gut. Some are good; others, not so much. The bacteria in your gut can influence your overall health, digestion and immune system. Probiotics can help replenish and nourish your internal supply of good bacteria, sometimes leading to less gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Aim for a product from a trusted brand that lists at least three billion organisms per serving. Keep it refrigerated after opening to protect those organisms.
You may recognize turmeric from your favorite Indian dish. But did you know that research suggests that curcumin (a key component of turmeric) possesses a wide range of beneficial health properties. A 2010 study that found that curcumin has anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-arthritic and anti-inflammatory properties. Its very strong anti-inflammatory properties are seen as one of the primary drivers of these benefits. You can add turmeric to your foods if you enjoy that flavor or find a curcumin supplement that delivers around 500 miligrams daily.
Another powerful spice, cinnamon, has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any of the spices. Several studies have shown that cinnamon may improve insulin sensitivity, which improves utilization of carbohydrates and leads to better blood-sugar control. Sprinkle it in shakes, on oats, yogurt, cottage cheese or wherever you’d enjoy the added flavor. Or if you want the assurance of getting a specific dose, you can choose a supplement. Studies have shown that one gram daily (about 1/2 teaspoon) is sufficient. Note: Cinnamon comes in two varieties -- Ceylon and cassia cinnamon -- and the most benefits have been linked to the cassia variety. Another note: If you have blood sugar issues, exercise caution if combining cinnamon with other diabetes drugs or supplements for blood sugar control.
Psyllium is a soluble fiber that can help lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar in people who have diabetes and help “move things along” if you’re a bit backed up. If you choose to supplement, start with small doses and build up over time. Adding too much fiber too soon can cause some -- ahem -- uncomfortable side effects.
This one has stood the test of time. Creatine is one of the most extensively studied nutritional supplements, both in clinical research and by real-life athletes. To date, most findings indicate one thing: Creatine works. The supplement may enhance muscle function during high-intensity exercise and cause muscle hypertrophy, likely due to increased water retention by muscle cells. Some data suggest there may be gains in muscle fiber diameter as well. Vegetarians may have a greater response to supplementation because of their limited intake of dietary creatine. While some advocate creatine loading, it isn’t necessary. Adding three to five grams per day can help improve strength or speed or help you add bulk.
Beta-alanine supplements have garnered interest over the last several years as several research investigations have linked its use to performance improvements. Beta-alanine is the beta form of the amino acid alanine, which muscle cells use to form carnosine. Carnosine is one of the more effective buffering agents in skeletal muscle, meaning that during high-intensity activity it helps stave off some of the things that slow you down.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you currently taking any supplements? Which ones? And why? Do you agree that these are the 10 best supplements? Why or why not? Are there some other supplements that we missed that should be added to the list? Leave a comment below and let us know!