Choosing a dietary supplement is hard. It seems that there are about a bazillion on the market making a variety of health claims. So what do you choose and why? First, there are some basics in identifying what you need. In other words, what are you supplementing for? Then, once you have identified what you need, how do you choose from the variety of options? From formulation and quality to cost and best value, there is a lot to consider.
First, Know your body
- What are you deficient in?
- Do you have goals?
- How is your diet and exercise regime?
Before you can pick a dietary supplement, you need to understand where you are right now and where you want to go.
A fat burning supplement isn’t going to help you if you don’t get off the couch and work out. Additionally, if you’re deficient in Vitamin D, a calcium supplement that is missing it will have little to no effect. What do you eat a lot of? Maybe your diet is already rich in leafy greens. In that case, you probably don’t need to supplement your iron intake.
Choose a focused formula
Great, now you have a goal or general idea of why you want to take a supplement. Starting with a complete multivitamin is great. But that is a blanketed approach if you have a specific need. It’s like taking a Tylenol for inflammation though – you might get some relief, but you haven’t treated the main problem of inflammation. When choosing a dietary supplement, consider what your body needs. Then, look for a formula focused on your nutritional needs or lifestyle goals. You don’t need every vitamin or mineral or herbal concoction under the sun. By choosing a focused formula, you are delivering the ingredients that will help your body (and mind) accomplish your goals. It could be as simple as choosing a standard St. John’s Wort formula to help improve mood.
Again, most formulas are created with some goal in mind. Whether it is a women’s multivitamin or a weight loss supplement, start by looking for a formula that speaks to your goals and needs.
Do your research
Bridging the gap between your needs and the supplement that is right for you does take a little bit of work. Start by educating yourself on the purpose of the ingredients in the supplement formula. There have been oodles of research, much of which has been distilled down to easy to consume bullet points on websites like WebMD, that explore the effectiveness of supplements for specific indications. For example, ingredients like turmeric and magnesium have been studied extensively and are even used by doctors to treat conditions.
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Once you know what it does, don’t stop there. Do more research on the product you want to select. Is it a tablet or a softgel? Does it have ingredients that may contradict or interact with other supplements or medications? Is it manufactured in an FDA registered and inspected facility?
Finally, be a wise consumer. Don’t simply compare prices and pill count. Look at the what’s in the bottle. Does it provide the recommend dosage for what you need? Are there ingredients that you don’t need (or want to pay extra for)? Use your resources and ask questions before you buy.
Supplement your lifestyle
Supplements aren’t a magic bullet. No matter how crazy the claim, a dietary supplement is not going to cure cancer or melt fat. Lifestyle choices factor into the overall effectiveness of dietary supplementation. From recovery to strength and fat burning, supplementation is a strategic and holistic approach to using nutrition to help the body repair itself or to stimulate metabolism. And not forgetting the importance of how you feel, supplements can help improve mood and increase energy levels, so you have it in you to go to the gym after work. Likewise, a multivitamin won’t can’t erase every bad nutrition choice we make, but it is also a reminder to make better nutritional choices every day. Supplementation is as much a lifestyle choice as doing yoga or going to the gym. It’s a choice that many people find to help achieve overall health and wellness.
What other tips do you have for choosing a dietary supplement?
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.