With our busy lifestyles, finding time to get all the required nutrients into each meal isn't easy, and that's where supplements enter our dietary equation. According to Today's Dietitian, if you're a healthy adult, supplements are generally safe to take; and many in the registered dietitian (RD) community say that they can help meet a nutrient deficiency. But with the abundance of information online, it can be difficult to know what to take at what age and—given the expense and that your body can only absorb so much—how much you should be taking. So, we turned to the pros for guidance.
"Though we should try to get most of our nutrients from food, we don't live in a perfect world and life is busy," registered dietitian Keri Glassman tells MyDomaine. "So taking supplements acts as a backup, an insurance of sorts," the celebrity nutritionist and founder of Nutritious Life adds. Ahead, Glassman shares the supplements we should be taking in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s; the foods we all need to help fight stress; and the one stress-busting vitamin you should be taking every day, regardless of age.
In Your 20s
"With your fast-paced life, you're probably not eating enough of the right foods, which is why a multivitamin is so vital. But you're not alone. Four out of five people don't get the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals through food alone. Taking this once a day will cover all your bases."
"Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil can significantly improve heart health and thus reduce the risk of heart disease. Their anti-inflammatory properties also enhance cognitive performance, which is what you'll need during those college years. The earlier you start taking this, the better."
"Since you're still growing, you'll need protein to keep up your energy. A plant protein is a great option if you need a boost, and it's low-touch, perfect for those years when you're still learning to cook."
In Your 30s
"Now is the time you need to boost your immune system with vitamin C from citrus foods or supplements. They act as antioxidants to fight disease-causing free radicals that cause aging."
"They are the healthy bacteria in your gut. Probiotics help your immune system as well as overall your health."
In Your 40s
"Up the omega-3s from fish oils, walnuts, and flaxseeds. These will help fight inflammation of the skin and continue to help fight wrinkles."
"Just like in your 30s, vitamin C (whether it's from citrus fruits or supplements) will help increase collagen in your skin to increase elasticity and fight disease."
In Your 50s
"You need brain food to keep your brain sharp, and choline, found in the yolk of eggs, is much needed to help with cell communication in the brain. It has also been shown to help people with Alzheimer's."
"DHA found in fish oil makes up the largest part of the gray matter in the brain, which helps with cell communication. It has also been shown to reduce the chance of dementia."
"[Antioxidants] help to fight free radicals that damage our brain cells and support a healthy immune system."
Top 5 Stress-Busting Foods
Since Glassman advises getting the majority of good-for-you nutrients from food, and we know that supplementing your diet can get expensive, Glassman assures us that a few easy food swaps are all it takes to maintain a healthy body and mind. "There are a couple of key ingredients, that if eaten daily, contain essential vitamins and minerals to rid your body of stress," she said. "They have known mood-boosting properties, along with calming benefits." Below Glassman reveals her top five stress-busting foods from breakfast to dinner (and a sweet treat, too):
"Oatmeal (especially made with steel-cut oats) is a source of complex carbs, which help to increase the production of serotonin, a chemical known for its amazing mood-boosting and stabilizing powers."
"Greens like spinach and kale are filled with folic acid, a nutrient that helps maintain normal levels of serotonin, a chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance (as if you needed another reason to eat them!)."
"Red, green, and chili peppers are all high in vitamin C, which has been shown to lower levels of cortisol (a hormone released during stress) in the body and reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress."
"Dark chocolate (in its super-dark, most natural state) has been associated with higher levels of serotonin. It also contains magnesium, which may have an effect on reducing anxiety."
But what about the foods that can bring on stress? Turns out those favorite ingredients we all reach for in times of crisis are actually making it worse. "Though it may be a natural go-to, heavy comfort foods that weigh us down often just end up causing more stress and anxiety," said Glassman. "Think of the things you naturally gravitate toward and mindlessly scarf down when you're stressed: Cheesy, greasy, carb-laden foods. And then think about how you feel after you eat them. It's bound to leave you feeling worse than when you started. I also recommend avoiding caffeine when you're stressed. It will only make you more irritable and anxious."
The Supplements for Balance and Relaxation
To help achieve balance, Glassman has a stress-busting solution that only involves one tablet. "I recommend taking a multivitamin every day to ensure that you're getting the stress-fighting vitamins you need, but also for getting into the habit and healthy mindset that goes along with supplementing, which can also help to reduce stress," she said.
While a simple multivitamin can support stress-free vibes, Glassman also has the remedy for a restful night's slumber: "Before bed, supplementing with magnesium can promote healthy sleep and restfulness," she said.
Before You Buy
The truth is, the supplement industry isn't regulated as strictly by the FDA. Compared to federal regulations of prescription medications, for example, the quality spectrum of supplements varies greatly. That said, there are a few strategies you can use to ensure that what you're buying is safe and that it contains the real thing. For example, a Health magazine article advises to do some homework beforehand on reputable sites like the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, avoid supplements manufactured in China (which the article states has poor manufacturing and regulation standards), and look for third-party certifications, like one by nonprofit US Pharmacopeia (USP). USP verifies "that a product contains the ingredients on the label in the amounts specified and doesn’t contain unacceptable levels of contaminants," according to Health. Other certifications to look for include ConsumerLab.com and National Science Foundation (NSF).