Let me start by saying vitamins cannot replace a healthy diet. One should first work on eating a balanced diet to ensure vitamins & minerals are coming from real food sources. There is a synergistic effect to eating whole real foods, meaning when you eat food the nutrients are better absorbed and work better together in your body then any supplement. With that being said, vitamins are really to help enhance an already healthy lifestyle or in some cases repair or replenish low nutrient levels due to inadequate intake or poor absorption of those nutrients.
My goal when providing these recommendations was to optimize health while minimizing risk of harm. Keep in mind, the vitamins I’ll review are not meant to cure or replace medical advice, nor replace a healthy balanced diet. Each person is unique to their own vitamin needs and these recommendations are my own opinion. I am not being paid or sponsored for the vitamins I recommend in this post. If you have questions about a specific disease, I recommend you speak with a primary care provider and/or a registered dietitian who is familiar with your medical history.
Vitamin & mineral supplementation is definitely a hot topic and there is so much misinformation out there about it. Did you know vitamins & supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry and one that is not regulated by the FDA. For this reason, you need to be cautious of what brands you buy. Some vitamin brands fill their capsules with fillers claiming a certain potency when in fact there is none or very little of that particular nutrient in it. And because there is no regulation of vitamins, companies can get away with this. There are third-party testing agencies that some vitamin companies will opt into to insure quality and validity to consumers. Interestingly, there is no set standard for what vitamins or dose needs to be included in a multi-vitamin so brands can vary a lot. It really is no wonder consumers are often confused on what vitamins and minerals to supplement. So for this reason, I have done the research on all the vitamins and supplements I recommend to ensure quality ingredients and trustworthy companies.
Many of you have been requesting information on what vitamins I take, so here you go, a giant long post all about it!
What Vitamins I Take
- Omega-3 EPA/DHA
- Vitamin D
P R E N A T A L
This is an important one, well for women who are of child-bearing age, plan to become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding to help fill in any nutritional gaps.
Prenatal brands vary a lot and some do not contain adequate amounts of vitamins or minerals. Most important factors to look for in a prenatal are active forms of folate and B12, calcium, iron, choline, iodine, vitamin D and omega-3 DHA. A good prenatal is especially important and is one vitamin I wouldn’t skip on even if you eat a balanced diet, you want to ensure optimal stores during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
There are two types of people:
- those who absorb folate
- those who do not absorb folate and require a little extra special attention
I fall into the number 2 type. I recently found out that I was deficient in the MTHFR enzyme (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase), a key enzyme in the metabolism of folate. Basically without this enzyme I am not able to metabolize folate for absorption which can lead to low levels and most importantly pose risk in early pregnancy during the neural tube development.
What I have figured out is that not all prenatals include methyl-folate, most are folic acid (a synthetic form) or folate (natural form) but both are not methylated so in in my case neither will work. Since learning of this I have found a couple brands of prenatal vitamins that already include methyl-folate. I would recommend everyone to take methylated folate & methylated B-12 (look for L-methylfolate & methylcobalamin) even if you don’t know that you have the MTHFR deficiency. About 60% of people have this deficiency and many don’t know. So I encourage anyone taking a prenatal to include it, just in case.
Methylated Prenatal Brands:
- Thorne Basic Prenatal – I am currently using this one
O M E G A – 3 E P A / D H A
Fats get a bad rap. Many Americans are under the misconception that all fat is bad. But not all fat is the same. The truth is fat is required for the nourishment of your skin, hair and nails, let alone it’s involved in so many metabolic processes at the cellular level. Under the umbrella of fat there are many types and each has a different role and effect on our health. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fats or PUFAs are an important fat that is essential to our body because our bodies cannot create this nutrient naturally therefore we must eat foods rich in omega-3 or supplement.
Omega-3 is made up of two important fats: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) & DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Both have significant research showing poor health and adverse outcomes if low but if stores are adequate can benefit the immune system, reduce inflammation, improve heart and brain function and more!
FACT: Did you know over half your brain is made up fat!
It’s important to incorporate foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids as these foods contain other beneficial nutrients that all work together synergistically. Foods high in omega-3 include flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts to name a few. These plant-based sources of omega-3 are great but may not be as well absorbed as some other sources so its good to include a variety of omega-3 in the diet. Better absorbed sources of omega-3 include fish oil (EPA/DHA supplementation) or fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackeral, sardines).
Sometimes diet alone may not suffice and additional omega-3 supplementation may be required, one of those times is during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many studies have linked positive effects of supplementing with omega-3 DHA to support brain function and cognitive development in babies. So I regularly recommend those trying to conceive or are pregnant to take a minimum of 300 mg DHA & 220 mg EPA daily. Everyone else (excluding kids) needs a combined amount of 500 mg EPA/DHA daily.
I recommend Nordic Naturals because of their high quality and strict purity testing.
V I T A M I N D
The sunshine vitamin.
Although, its not truly a vitamin it gets synthesized in the body and acts more like a hormone. Everyone needs it so we must find ways to incorporate it from sun, food and/or supplement. Vitamin D has its hand in thousands of critical processes in the body. It’s no wonder its been linked to so many health conditions related to the heart, brain, muscle, bones, etc.
There are three ways to get vitamin D either the sunshine, diet or supplementation but either way you get vitamin D it is in the inactive form. Your body converts inactive vitamin D through your liver and kidneys where the active form can then be used throughout your body. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is generally the preferred form and is naturally made by our bodies when our skin gets exposed to sun. In addition, D3 may be added to foods like fortified cereal & fortified milk or organically in foods like egg yolks and fatty fish (wild-caught salmon, tuna, etc.), to name a few. Get a full list of vitamin D rich foods here.
FACT: The active form is called 1,25-hydroxy vitamin D and is made by the kidney
Consequently, vitamin D plays a role in thousands of cellular functions and benefits go far beyond just bone health. Research has shown benefits from cardiovascular, digestion, immunity, pregnancy to mood disorders and prevention of certain cancers. Vitamin D is one nutrient you really don’t want to become deficient on.
Because vitamin D plays such a vital role in our health, I usually recommend people supplement, especially those that live in certain parts of the country that due to the rotation of the sun may not be able to absorb vitamin D year round. For example, in the Pacific Northwest you can only absorb vitamin D about 5 months out of the year. But just because you live closer to the equator does not mean you have adequate vitamin D stores. Darker skinned people and elderly absorb less vitamin D and anytime you wear sunscreen you are blocking vitamin D absorption. Please don’t take this as a message to not wear sunscreen. But experts say that exposing your arms or legs 10-15 minutes in unprotected sun can help you absorb natural vitamin D, then after 10 minutes or so apply your sunscreen. In either case, no matter where you live I would recommend having your vitamin D levels checked through out the year and supplementing as needed.
Read more about vitamin D & safe sun strategies here .
Many multi-vitamins, prenatals or fish oils now include vitamin D making it easier to get this essential nutrient. Generally 1,500 – 2,000 IU daily for adults is adequate to maximize benefits (according to Endocrine Society). If your vitamin D levels are low you may need a higher dose and in some cases a prescription to get a therapeutic dose. It’s best to get vitamin D levels tested and discuss supplementation with your doctor or dietitian that is familiar with your medical history.
Recommended Vitamin D Brands:
- Nordic Naturals Pro-Omega D – double bonus as it contains EPA/DHA + vitamin D
- Carlson Super Daily D3 drops – what I am currently using (drops go under tongue, unflavored)
P R O B I O T I C S
Gut health 101: establish “good” bacteria in the gut aka Probiotics.
Probiotics are live active bacteria that helps to maintain healthy gut flora. By maintaining a healthy gut “microbiome” (as experts like to call it) it promotes increased colonization and improved immune function by preventing bad pathogens from crossing the gut barrier into your blood. A low “good” bacteria count may be caused by reasons related to health, poor diet, and/or use of antibiotics that disrupt the gut microbiome and increase susceptibility to suboptimal health outcomes.
Besides immune benefits probiotics and a healthy intestinal flora can help improve vitamin/mineral absorption and improve many digestive and intestinal issues like bloating, irritable bowel, & diarrhea for example.
FACT: 1/3 of immune system starts in your gut
Food sources of probiotics include yogurt, kefir, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and fermented beverages like kombucha, to name a few. Unfortunately, most people do not eat these foods often enough to keep their gut well colonized with good bacteria. Yogurt is a great source of lactobacillus and acidophilus but limited as its does not provide a more broad spectrum variety of probiotics. I first suggest trying to fill your diet with as many food sources of probiotics but supplementing a probiotic will likely provide a more well rounded variety of microbs to really help your gut flourish.
In order to induce the activity and growth of the good gut microbes what you feed your gut is just as important as what probiotics you use. Without prebiotics your gut flora will not colonize and grow. Think of prebiotics like the fertilizer to probiotics. By eating whole foods rich in fiber the healthy gut flora can thrive and multiply. Prebiotics fortunately are found in many plant-based whole food sources like whole grains, fruit and vegetables.
FACT: the average person has about 40 trillion microorganisms in their body
In conjunction with diet I chose to use a probiotic because I do not consistently eat probiotic-rich foods. However, there are hundreds of probiotics on the market each containing a different concoction of probiotic strains and strengths.
5 Tips for Choosing a Probiotic:
- Look for 10-20+ billion CFU live microbes. I know this sounds like a lot but many of these bacteria won’t survive past the gastrointestinal tract. Double check the CFU/expiration on the back of the bottle to ensure you are getting the potency you need. Some manufactures claim 5 billion CFU on the front but really the CFU can be half that amount after manufacture date or expiration date.
- Find a probiotic with multiple strains. This ensures you are getting a wider spectrum of bacteria which will better help colonize your gut.
- Enteric coating or some form of special encapsulation that protects the bacteria ensures higher survival rate of the microbes as they enter your stomach acid.
- Refrigerated or not? This really depends on the manufacturer. Some non-refrigerated probiotics are formulated with a special blend and encapsulation to be shelf stable but not all shelf probiotics are this way. Most shelf probiotics have a lower potency and likely lower bacteria survival rate. Refrigerated probiotics are seen as superior because they are more likely to have more live active bacteria and maintain CFU potency longer.
- Choose a trustworthy probiotic brand that has proven research, with well documented probiotic strains in there products, like the ones I recommend below.
There really are not negative side effects of taking a probiotic. You are just colonizing what good bacteria your already have for improved health. If you’ve never taken a probiotic you may want to consider starting at 5 billion CFU and working your way up to prevent any possible bloating. Below I’ve included a few of the Probiotics I’ve used and like.
Innate Response Flora 20-14 – great for every day use
Innate Response Flora 50-14 – great option if you have poor gut microbiome or after an antibiotic course
Garden of Life Raw Probiotic for women – higher potency, a good one to work up to
HOPE THIS WAS HELPFUL!
Honestly, if you eat a well rounded healthy diet and you’re in good health you likely do not need too much else. I try to keep my supplementation to a minimum and try to get what I think I may be lacking from my diet. Everyone’s body and absorption level is different, so what might work for one person doesn’t for the next. You have to do what feels right for your body. But as I have said before, if feel you are deficient in any nutrient you should get your labs drawn & discuss this with your doctor or dietitian that knows your medical history.
Let me know what you think of this post in the comments below 🙂