When it comes to weight loss, it’s certainly more uplifting to think about what we should add to our diet instead of what we should take away. But are we overdoing it with dietary supplements?
With every magic nutrient we add to our shopping lists, are we boosting our health, or merely emptying our wallets and cramming our bodies with extra stuff we don’t need?
Here’s a lineup of some of the latest dietary supplement darlings. Some seem like a worthwhile boost, while others really don’t seem worth taking.
Polyphenol antioxidants are found in phytochemical-containing foods, including several fruits and veggies, red wine, green tea, chocolate and olive oil. Polyphenols have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, as well as other possible anti-aging benefits. As with any nutrient, excess supplementation can be harmful, but the likelihood of consuming unhealthy amounts of polyphenols seems low. Resveratrol is a polyphenol commonly used in supplementation form.
Probiotics are live microorganisms found to benefit the intestinal tract. They may also lower cholesterol and blood pressure, improve mineral absorption and strengthen the immune system. This “friendly bacteria” is commonly consumed in food with added active live cultures, such as yogurt, and it isn’t believed to be associated with any side effects. If you don’t like yogurt, a supplement may be best for you.
Boron could easily be one of the next “it” supplements, but it seems like one to be wary of. This trace element is found in the body naturally, and is believed to improve bone and joint health as well as play a positive role in metabolism. The caveat: humans don’t need much of it to benefit. We probably get what we need from the occasional handful of raisins, nuts or legumes. Consuming too much boron can lead to very unfriendly side effects, so it seems best to avoid using a boron dietary supplement unless your doctor prescribes it.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Found in oily/fatty fish like anchovies, salmon, fresh tuna and eel (mmm!), omega-3 fatty acids are thought to stimulate blood circulation, improve heart health, and contain anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Supplements are popular, though it’s important not to consume more than recommended, as high amounts have been associated with health risks such as bleeding. Note: while white fish does not contain omega-3 fatty acids, it does have its own set of health benefits.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (but most of us just think of it as the subject of creepy infomercials). It is found in most protein-based foods, such as eggs, cheese, red meat and fish, and it increases serotonin production. Tryptophan can be used to chill you out and lift your spirits. It might even be what knocks you out after Thanksgiving dinner (if you’re a turkey fan). But research suggests it isn’t worth dialing that 1-800 number for: it can be dangerous in excess, and has even been associated with deaths (it was banned from the market in 1989 after a tryptophan-related disease broke out). Unless it has been prescribed by your doctor, you’re better off getting your “serotonin fix” naturally.
A smart approach to dietary supplements
As their very name suggests, supplements aren’t meant to replace a balanced diet — they’re for filling in the nutrient gaps. There’s no need to spend 20 minutes of your day on a pill drill (especially if you’re under 50!).
While big food manufacturers aren’t looking out for our health, Mother Nature is, so we can get most of the nutrients we need by eating a balanced, healthy diet.
If you do choose a supplement, keep it simple: pick one with multiple benefits, such as a multivitamin, or resveratrol or green tea, which — in addition to their antioxidant benefits — can boost your metabolism.
What do you think? Is it better to skip supplements, or err on the (usually) safe side and add nutrients to our diet?