Even the healthiest diets lack certain nutrients. Changes in soil quality and the persistent drain of chronic stress has made supplementation critical. It can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve come up with this list of supplements that everyone should take that we call the Foundation Five™.
The Foundation Five™ nutrients will give you the biggest bang for your buck so that your body has all it needs to get the job done.
#1: Fish Oil
If you can only take one supplement, most experts will agree that getting adequate fish oil is the way to go.
Why You Need It:
Fish oil contains the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. These nutrients are so powerful because they are incorporated into the outside lipid layer of all your cells, allowing for better “messaging” between cells. In practical terms, this means your body will be able to burn fat for energy rather than relying strictly on glucose from carbohydrates.
Fish oil also has a very high thermic effect, triggering the body to burn more calories following digestion. For example, one study found that when men increased their fish oil intake from half a gram to 3 grams a day for 2 weeks, they increased their thermic effect by 51 percent.
Fish oil is also necessary to offset the inflammatory effects of processed oils, such as soy or corn oil. In practice, this translates into less stress and better hormone balance. It may also improve cognition and lower risk of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.
How Much Do You Need?
Aim to get 1 to 3 grams of EPA and DHA daily. Quality is very important when it comes to fish oil supplements. Reports show that many fish oil brands are contaminated, rancid, or don’t meet label claims. To test for rancidity, take a capsule and chew it up. Safe fish oil should have a mild taste, but rancid fish oil will taste acidic.
- To combat high inflammation, try a high-EPA concentration fish oil.
- For body composition, get EPA and DHA in a 3 to 2 ratio.
- For optimal health, get a balance of Omega-3's and other essential fatty acids.
Many health-conscious people believe you can get all your nutrients from food. Nutritional surveys don’t support this. “Most people do not consume an optimal amount of vitamins through diet alone,” write the authors of a 2002 review in the highly respected Journal of the American Medical Association.
Why You Need It:
According to the 2010 NHANES survey that recorded the diet of Americans, adults of all ages didn’t come close to meeting the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for many of the 21 most important nutrients for health. Deficiencies were above 80 percent for vitamin D, vitamin E, and potassium. They were over 50 percent for choline, potassium, and magnesium.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The average American has a high consumption of low-nutrient, high-calorie processed foods. However, even diets rich in whole foods are deficient due to the following factors:
1. The large use of pesticides and herbicides on crops significantly lowers nutritional quality.
2. Modern day farming practices deplete the soil of micronutrients.
3. Prescription drugs wreaks havoc on nutrient levels. Taking an oral birth control can sap your body of much needed nutrients including CoQ10, DHEA, folic acid, magnesium, tryptophan, tyrosine, vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, and E, and zinc.
4. Chronic stress depletes vitamins and minerals at an accelerated rate. High levels of cortisol and adrenaline increase the use of vitamins C, D, and the B complex. Minerals including magnesium, selenium, zinc, and potassium are also depleted by stress.
How To Choose A Multivitamin Supplement?
Because multivitamin supplements combine so many nutrients into one, quality is often compromised. All minerals are bound with another compound for stability. An easy way for companies to decrease production costs is to use mineral salts for binding. Mineral salts are very poorly absorbed.
Poor absorption can be largely avoided by choosing minerals that are bound with an amino acid. Called amino acid chelates, these minerals are treated by the body like proteins making them easy to digest. Examples include taurate, glycinate, and orotate.
It's also important to keep an eye out for multis that have high levels of preformed vitamin A and manganese because they can be toxic at higher levels.
Finally, folic acid should be the bioavailable tetra-hydrofolate form because other forms of folic acid are not absorbed by the 50 percent of the population that have a specific gene variation.
#3: Vitamin D
Mountains of research show that achieving healthy vitamin D levels is one of the easiest ways to prevent disease. Healthy vitamin D promotes long-term health, optimizes body composition, and reduces injury and illness.
Why You Need It:
Vitamin D deficiency is rampant at all latitudes due to sunscreen use. Regular SPF 15 use reduces vitamin D synthesis by 98 percent. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have low D unless you actively seek out daily sun exposure without sunglasses or sunscreen.
Tons of research link vitamin D deficiency to heightened risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, and obesity. What follows are just a few reasons everyone should get enough D:
- Vitamin D is a key player in supporting metabolic rate and preventing fat infiltration into muscle.
- A healthy vitamin D level is necessary for a robust immune system. It’s also protective against musculoskeletal injuries and fractures.
- Vitamin D is associated with muscular strength and power.
- The likelihood of having depression and other brain/mood disorders is significantly higher in vitamin D-deficient individuals.
- Vitamin D reduces risk of numerous cancers including lung, breast, colon, and prostate.
How Much Do You Need?
It’s important to check vitamin D levels periodically due to seasonal differences. Testing every 3 to 6 months is recommended.
In order to maintain vitamin D levels from sun exposure, scientists suggest you need to be in direct sunlight for at least 20 minutes daily between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm.
Supplement with 2,000 to 5,000 IUs daily to achieve a blood value between 30 and 80 ng/ml if you have limited sun exposure.
Magnesium is an often overlooked mineral that affects more than 300 processes in the body. It can feel like your health (and life!) are falling apart if you don’t get enough.
Why You Need It:
Due to changes in diet and a drop in soil quality, magnesium deficiency has become rampant. There’s been a gradual decline of dietary magnesium from a high of 500 mg/day in 1900 to barely 225 mg today, well below the U.S. RDA.
- Magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, making it critical for stress management and restful sleep.
- Serotonin, the brain chemical that elevates mood, is dependent on magnesium. Most anti-depressant drugs improve serotonin levels. Getting your magnesium up is natural and may be just as effective since it solves multiple problems at once.
- Best known as the mineral of insulin sensitivity, magnesium is key for healthy blood sugar levels.
- Lack of magnesium sends the nervous system into overdrive, leading to high blood pressure and overwhelming stress.
- Exercise increases magnesium needs by 10 to 20 percent. Magnesium helps the body handle the high cortisol output from intense training.
How To Test For It:
Only 0.3 percent of the magnesium stored in the body is in the blood, with the rest of it in the bone, muscle, and connective tissue. This makes your typical blood test useless for assessing magnesium status. Instead, a red blood cell test should be done with optimal values between 5.6 and 6.8 mg/dL for RBC magnesium.
How To Take Magnesium Supplements:
Scientists recommend 10 mg/kg/body weight of magnesium daily (400 to 1,200 mg). Supplement quality is key. If you take cheap magnesium like magnesium oxide, it will cause urgency going to the bathroom.
Look for a magnesium supplement that is bound with an amino acid chelate, such as glycinate or taurate, or orotate. Best results will come from taking different forms of magnesium in divided doses. For example, you could take magnesium glycinate after a morning workout and a blended magnesium at subsequent meals.
Probiotics are tiny bacteria that naturally occur in the gastrointestinal tract. When consumed in adequate amounts, probiotics provide a slew of health benefits.
Why You Need Them:
Probiotics aid digestion and absorption of nutrients in the gut. Probiotics also affect the production of brain chemicals that are made in the GI tract, allowing for better cognition and motivation.
Healthy bacteria support the growth of healthy gut bacteria that can promote fat loss. Science shows probiotic foods improve metabolism and raise an anti-inflammatory hormone that helps the body burn belly fat.
Probiotics displace harmful bacteria. They also improve the body’s ability to eliminate waste products and foreign compounds. Additionally, probiotics protect the liver from alcohol, antibiotics, or everyday painkillers like Tylenol.
What To Look For In A Probiotic Supplement:
A key factor when choosing a probiotic is that the supplement you buy actually contains live bacteria. Many products are only guaranteed at the time of manufacture. The majority of supplemental probiotics have died off by the time you get around to taking them.
Instead, buy probiotic supplements that are guaranteed through the date of expiration. Also, it’s important that you get products containing the species and strain that have been tested in research and shown to have worthwhile outcomes. Here are several examples of what to look for: