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  • Writer's pictureMary Corso, RDN, CDN

The 411 on Nutrition Supplements

As we settle into a new year, many of us are motivated to “get healthy” which may lead us to be curious about nutritional supplements that promise to fix a whole bunch of health issues. While supplements can play a role in supporting overall well-being, it's crucial to approach them with caution and not just start taking them without doing some research first.  Let’s look a little closer at how we as dietitians feel about the use of supplementation, FDA regulations, the importance of a food-first approach, the potential drawbacks of relying on a "laundry list" of supplements and some “trendy” supplements making headlines recently that have limited evidence to back their claims.

Nutritional supplements are designed to complement a balanced diet by providing essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. However, they should not be seen as a replacement for whole foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements, but the oversight is different from that of prescription or over-the-counter medications. It's important to choose supplements from reputable manufacturers to ensure quality and safety.

As dietitians we feel a "food first” mentality is best. Whole foods offer a complex mix of nutrients that work together, providing benefits beyond what isolated supplements can offer. For example:

  • Instead of vitamin C supplements, opt for citrus fruits, strawberries, and bell peppers.

  • Try incorporating more fatty fish like salmon for omega-3 fatty acids before reaching for the fish oil capsules.

  • How about calcium and vitamin D? Rather than relying on supplements for bone health, a diet rich in dairy, leafy greens, and exposure to sunlight for vitamin D can offer another approach.

  • If we are talking about iron, iron-rich foods like lean meats, beans, and spinach are often more effective than relying solely on iron supplements. Of course this depends upon a person's individual needs and overall health.

Consuming excessive amounts of certain supplements as well as taking multiple supplements can have negative effects. Dietitians can help you understand the upper limits of specific vitamins and minerals to prevent unintended consequences of over-supplementation. In addition, maintaining a long list of supplements can be costly. Working with a dietitian or your doctor can help prioritize and choose supplements that align with individual health goals without breaking the bank.

In the world of nutritional supplements, there are also several popular trends that, despite their popularity, lack substantial evidence for health benefits. It's essential to approach these trends with skepticism and prioritize choices backed by scientific research. Here are some supplements that are currently popular but may not have strong evidence supporting their health claims:

1. Collagen Supplements:

Trendy Claim: Promotes youthful skin, joint health, and overall well-being.

Reality: While collagen is a crucial protein in the body, there is limited evidence supporting the idea that consuming collagen supplements directly improves skin elasticity or joint health. A well-balanced diet with sufficient protein sources is often more beneficial.

2. Biotin for Hair and Nail Health:

Trendy Claim: Enhances hair and nail growth and strength.

Reality: Biotin deficiency is rare, and there is little evidence to suggest that extra biotin supplementation improves hair and nail health in individuals with an adequate biotin intake.

3. CBD Supplements:

Trendy Claim: Stress relief, anxiety reduction, and overall well-being.

Reality: While some studies suggest potential benefits, the evidence is still in its early stages. CBD's effects can vary, and its regulation is an evolving landscape. Consultation with a healthcare professional is advised before taking these.

4. Testosterone Boosters:

Trendy Claim: Increased muscle mass, energy levels, and libido.

Reality: Many over-the-counter testosterone boosters lack sufficient evidence to support their claims. Lifestyle factors such as adequate sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet have a more significant impact on testosterone levels.

5. Fat Burners:

Trendy Claim: Accelerates weight loss by boosting metabolism.

Reality: The efficacy and safety of many fat-burning supplements are questionable. Healthy lifestyle choices, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, remain the cornerstone of sustainable weight management.

6. Green Tea Extract for Weight Loss:

Trendy Claim: Facilitates weight loss through increased metabolism.

Reality: While green tea is rich in antioxidants, the evidence supporting its significant impact on weight loss is inconclusive. Any potential effects are likely to be modest.

While nutritional supplements can have their place in a healthy lifestyle, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. As dietitian's we can help  guide you in making informed decisions, emphasizing the importance of a balanced diet as the foundation of overall well-being. Remember, it's not about a "magic pill" but rather a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition.

Until next time,

Mary Corso RDN, CDN

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