Walk into any health food store and you’re sure to encounter row upon row of vitamins and supplements — all of which make powerful health claims. Supplements promise to boost your energy, combat stress, and even help you lose weight. But do they really work? How do you know which ones you need, and how do you choose between different brands and dosages? What are the best vitamins and supplements for weight loss and improved overall health?
Health experts say that vitamins and supplements definitely play a key role in our health, but it’s important to understand what they can and cannot do. Supplements — as the name suggests — should add to and complement your diet, but should not be expected to take the place of real, whole foods.
The best supplements for you will depend mostly on your individual health needs and goals. But certain supplements are more beneficial for people who are actively trying to lose excess weight. Achieving a healthy weight often goes hand-in-hand with addressing underlying health concerns such as chronic inflammation and digestive issues that can often make weight loss difficult.
Using the right supplements can help resolve issues such as these and restore balance to your body’s natural digestion and detoxification processes.
The role of nutritional supplements in a healthy diet
Supplements can help bridge gaps in your diet, but they won’t ensure your health and wellness all by themselves. The best source of vitamins and nutrients is food — particularly plant foods, which provide phytonutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that keep your body functioning properly. But it can sometimes be difficult to obtain enough vital nutrients from food alone, especially if you’re on a special diet or can’t eat certain foods.
Vegetarians, for example, face a higher risk of deficiency in vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Individuals with certain genetic variants may have difficulty absorbing some nutrients from food sources. In such cases, quality nutritional supplements may be necessary to help protect against any vitamin deficiencies.
Certain nutrient deficiencies are common even among people who don’t have any dietary restrictions, including vitamin B12, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. Numerous studies show that vitamins and supplements can help make up for these shortages.
In an analysis of 29 different studies, researchers found that using vitamin D and calcium supplements reduced the risk of bone fractures by up to 24%. The best results were seen with doses of at least 1200 mg of calcium and 800 IUs of vitamin D daily.
Beyond filling in these nutritional gaps, other studies confirm the benefits of taking vitamins and supplements when they’re used in conjunction with a healthy diet.
Why are supplements good for you?
Vitamins and nutritional supplements reinforce your health and help you lead a healthier life. For instance, food cravings often indicate your body is lacking specific vitamins and minerals. When you experience cravings, your body is telling you it needs higher amounts of certain nutrients.
Nutritional supplements also help boost your immunity. Many doctors will instruct their patients to take vitamins when they’re sick to strengthen their immune systems. Using supplements is a form of preventive health that can reduce your risk of illness and help you feel healthier and more energetic. Supplements can improve your overall health physically, mentally, and emotionally, and are even effective at combating free radicals and reducing stress.
What are the best vitamins for weight loss?
Nearly every nutritional supplement helps the body in ways that contribute to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. For example, vitamins that boost your energy can help you stay more active. Antioxidants have the ability to fight free radicals that get stored in fat cells and contribute to weight gain, which may help you shed excess body weight.
The following are just a few supplements that can help those who want to lose weight.
The best sources of antioxidants are whole fruits and vegetables. Using supplements that contain antioxidants can be helpful if you need to reduce internal inflammation, which can make weight loss difficult.
Antioxidants also help protect against oxidation. What’s oxidation? Have you ever noticed how a sliced avocado turns brown within 30 minutes or so of being exposed to air? This color change is caused by a chemical reaction in which electrons are lost. The same thing happens to the cells inside our bodies. The cellular damage caused by oxidation leads to signs of aging and many diseases. Antioxidants help prevent or slow down this process. These beneficial compounds are commonly available in tablet form and in powders that can be added to beverages.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Numerous studies support the benefits of a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats, most often found in fish, are beneficial for heart health, brain health, and reducing inflammation in the body. Yet most people don’t even come close to consuming the recommended amount through diet alone.
An Omega-3 fatty acid supplement can be a healthy addition to a well-rounded weight-loss plan. For best results, split up your dose throughout the day. For example, if your recommended dosage is four tablets daily, take one with breakfast, one with lunch, and two with dinner. Taking higher doses of omega 3 in the evening may help promote more restful sleep.
Vitamin B refers to a group of vitamins that help control how the body uses the food you eat for energy. Low levels of any of the B vitamins can lead to issues with cell metabolism and low energy levels.
Vitamin B-12 is one that many people are deficient in, particularly vegetarians and older individuals who lose the ability to absorb B-12 from the foods they eat. Vitamin B-12 can help increase energy levels and is often recommended as a sublingual spray to help improve absorption.
B vitamins can also be delivered through vitamin injections, which can help boost energy levels, strengthen the immune system, and improve overall well-being. These injections have been shown to help thousands of people around the world fight heart disease and slow the aging process. B vitamins can also help you fight inflammation, asthma, allergies, and weight gain.
Vitamin D is another important vitamin that most people don’t get enough of. Vitamin D doesn’t occur naturally in many foods; the body produces it when exposed to natural sunlight.. However, even in sunny southern states, it can be difficult to get enough from the sun.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Vitamin D also helps the body absorb calcium, which makes it necessary for building and maintaining strong bones and preventing bone loss and osteoporosis. Taking a vitamin D supplement can help your body maintain the proper blood levels.
Even the healthiest eater doesn’t get every single vitamin and mineral the body needs in the correct amounts every day. This is even more true for someone participating in a calorie-restricted diet, who may be at risk of low levels of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, calcium, zinc, and selenium.
A good multivitamin supports a healthy diet by offering an extra dose of these and other important nutrients. For weight loss, a multivitamin can help curb food cravings. However, don’t assume that a multivitamin will provide everything you need. Many multivitamins, for example, don’t contain the recommended daily amount of vitamin D. If in doubt, ask your doctor which nutrients in your multivitamin are sufficient, and which ones still require additional supplementation.
In a perfect world, all of our meals would be home cooked with fresh, organic vegetables. But that isn’t always possible. It’s often tempting to reach for a meal-replacement bar from the grocery store, but these products are usually loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients — even the ones that claim to be healthy. It’s always important to read ingredients, choose products that use healthier sugar substitutes, and pay attention to serving size.
It’s helpful to have a meal replacement option when you’re on the go, however, so you’re not stuck going through the drive-through when you get hungry. Some meal replacement drinks are delicious and can help you stick to your diet.
How do I choose the right supplements?
Nutritional supplementation shouldn’t be an impulse buy. Take some time to make sure you’re getting the right supplements for your body and that you’re getting them from a reputable manufacturer. You should use the same level of care in choosing supplements that you use when buying foods: look for quality ingredients and avoid anything artificial.
With so many supplements on the market now, it’s challenging to know what to choose. The good news is that there is oversight in the industry. As of August 24, 2007, the FDA now requires all supplements to have accurate labeling and be free of any impurities or contaminants. This makes choosing supplements much safer than it was in the past, but the quality of ingredients can still vary widely among different supplement manufacturers.
Before making a purchase, do some research. First, research each of the supplements you’re considering. Investigate the potential benefits and any risks. Make sure you understand the recommended dosage, and don’t rely on a supplement to provide 100% of your daily needs. A multivitamin, for example, may contain only 25% of your daily magnesium requirements, but including leafy greens and nuts in your diet (even dark chocolate) can supply the rest.
Next, research the different companies that manufacture the supplements you’re interested in. How long have they been in business? Are they recommended by medical professionals? Do they have seals of approval from independent organizations?
Once you’ve established what you’re planning to take and who you will be purchasing it from, buy a small quantity to try if possible. Don’t stock up until you’ve tried a full bottle and know for certain that it’s something you plan to continue taking. Some supplements may have side effects; for example, multivitamins with iron may be hard on your stomach or some fish oil supplements can leave a fishy taste in your mouth. You may have to try a few different products or brands before settling on one that works for you.
Remember that supplements are intended to enhance the diet, not replace good nutrition. Eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables has health benefits well beyond weight management. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain naturally occurring antioxidants and other compounds that help keep your body functioning properly and help protect against disease.
What is the best time to take vitamins?
Vitamins and supplements interact with the body in different ways and should be taken at different times, either with meals or on an empty stomach. For instance, iron should be taken on an empty stomach to promote full absorption, while fish oil supplements should be taken with food to avoid gastric distress such as nausea and indigestion. Vitamin D should be taken with a meal that contains fat — such as avocado, olive oil, or grass-fed beef — to ensure absorption.
The best way to determine when you should take certain vitamins is to read the directions on the label. All supplements will tell you how often to take them, the best time of day to use them, how much to take, and whether you should use them with or without food. Vitamins and supplements may not be effective if taken past their expiration dates, so make sure to use them well before they expire.
Can you tell me where to buy the best vitamins?
Your doctor is usually the best source when it comes to finding the best vitamins and nutritional supplements for you. Doctors can recommend the most effective, quality brands, and may even have their own line of weight-loss supplements and products.
Some doctors even provide services that evaluate your DNA markers and inform you which vitamins you may be deficient in. For example, some people are predisposed to having absorption problems and may need higher doses of certain supplements to reach their daily recommended intake. Ask your doctor about the possibility of undergoing DNA testing so you can learn more about your genetics and about what your body needs to feel your best.
Some doctors even provide services that analyze your DNA markers and inform you which vitamins you may be deficient in. For example, some people are predisposed to having absorption problems and may need higher doses of certain supplements to reach their daily recommended intake. Ask your doctor about the possibility of undergoing DNA testing so you can learn more about your genetics and about what your body needs to feel your best.
Tips for using vitamins and supplements
- Evaluate your diet to make sure you’re consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods. When it comes to produce, it’s best to eat a variety of colors. Orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes provide different vitamins and nutrients than green foods like spinach and broccoli.
- Determine whether a dietary makeover is in order. You can’t eat fast food and junk food and expect supplements to make up for your lack of nutrition. Start looking at simple ways to make your meals healthier.
- Identify any potential nutrient gaps in your diet. Are there entire food groups you typically avoid? If you don’t eat much meat, you may be lacking in vitamin B12. Also, many people don’t produce enough vitamin D or get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.
- Consider your health goals. Do you want to lose weight? Certain supplements like green coffee bean may improve your body’s ability to burn fat.
Other reasons you may need supplemental vitamins
- Iron and folic acid are recommended for women who are trying to conceive. However, watch your vitamin A intake, since excess vitamin A has been linked to birth defects.
- People over the age of 50 are advised to take supplemental vitamin B12.
- Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in women. Women need more iron than men to make up for the blood lost during menstruation. Women who are past menopause may not need iron supplements.
- Anyone who is consuming a low-calorie diet or who is suffering from certain diseases may need supplements to compensate for what they aren’t getting from their diets.
The best practice is to employ the services of a medically approved health and weight management program. Our personalized weight-loss program at Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers takes the guesswork out of proper supplementation by designing a diet plan and wellness program tailored to your unique physical needs. Contact us today for your free consultation.
This post was originally published in March, 2018, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on May 6, 2019