New year, new you. The motto has become as familiar to us as the knowledge that, year after the year, the #1 collective aspiration every January is to eat healthier. Some may choose to simply start eating more vegetables; others might elect to begin buying organic food or locally grown food. Others still may try something more radical, such as going keto or completely eschewing meat and dairy.
If you too have hopped on the bandwagon—or if you’re planning to do so—it’s vital to realize that restricting food might lead to nutritional gaps, no matter how carefully you plan your diet. While food itself is often the best medicine, nutritional supplements can operate as an insurance plan for your health, providing you with an extra measure of support.
With that in mind, here are five of the most valuable nutritional supplements to consider while dieting—and how they can enhance your life:
1. Fish oil
Previous iterations of fish oil supplements may have gotten a bad rap for their distinctive smell (and the belches they prompted), but they’ve come a long way in recent years. Good thing, too, as they offer a key compound that’s fundamental to optimal health: Omega 3s.
“One of the key nutrients many of us don’t get enough of is long chain omega-3 fats (which are found naturally in oily fish, for example, salmon),” says dietician and the face behind The Biting Truth Anna Debenham. “There is solid evidence to show that omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for a healthy heart and brain, and play a role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.”
Boon for you: Researchers from the University of Brazil have demonstrated that fish oil supplements may support healthy thyroid function, which can lead to a more balanced metabolism (and the weight loss that arrives with it).†
Call it the mighty mineral. As the second most abundant element in the human body, magnesium helps regulate over 300 biochemical functions, including fat breakdown, muscle contractions and cardiovascular health. And yet, roughly 80 percent of the American population doesn’t get enough of this essential nutrient. They—and you—should: Magnesium organically encourages suppler, more radiant skin, hormone balance, bone health and bolstered energy levels.†
What’s more, healthy magnesium levels may promote deeper, more restorative sleep, and sufficient, sound slumber is crucial to weight loss—and to maintaining motivation for a lifestyle change like a new diet. Take it from the author of Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction Dr. David Friedman: “A lack of sleep is a key contributing factor to weight gain.” (Poor sleep, for example, increases blood sugar levels and may slow down your metabolism.)†
Boon for you: As the leading ingredient in many stool softeners, magnesium is widely known for helping people stay regular. Given that constipation is one of the biggest side effects of dieting—particularly for those who are new to filling their plates with leafy greens and other vegetables—the mineral ought to near the top of your list.
And speaking of compromised gut health: If you have tummy trouble from eating new, unfamiliar foods or from indulging over the holidays, you can help get your stomach back on track with probiotics. Comprised of live bacteria and friendly yeasts, probiotics help restore the good/bad bacteria ratio in your stomach. And with a healthier gut, you may experience everything from decreased anxiety to cleaner teeth and gums. Intrigued? In particular, look for L. fermentum and L. amylovorus. Research shows that those who ate yogurt with these strains reduced their body fat by four percent.†
Boon for you: Anecdotes abound asserting that probiotics diminish cravings. While research remains inconclusive, consider this from Scientific American: “Gut microbes have been shown to influence diet and behavior as well as anxiety, depression, hypertension and a variety of other conditions.” It may seem creepy to consider that our guts dictate our yearnings, but it also makes sense, doesn’t it?
Going dairy-free has heaps of potential health benefits, but it may leave some dieters with less than ideal calcium levels. The mineral, which is found in milk, yogurt, cheese and more, plays a significant role in your overall health, rendering adequate amounts indispensable to your well-being. As Ginger Hultin, R.D. and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says, “Calcium is a mineral that helps maintain bone health but also supports muscle and nerve communication. It helps the cardiovascular system and supports the release of hormones.”
While calcium is present in plenty of foods besides dairy—including tofu, fortified orange juice, almonds, broccoli, figs, and kale—adults should aim to get 1,000-1,300 mg per day. If you aren’t getting enough, think about a supplement.
Boon for you: Research reports that calcium may help support healthy weight after weight loss—which easily goes down as one of the largest fears dieters face.†
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D-rich foods like salmon, tuna and eggs might be part of your intended spread—particularly if you’re planning to go carb-light and protein-heavy—but if you’re aiming to avoid carbs such as cereal, juices, milk and yogurt, you may want to add a vitamin D supplement to your cart. Indeed, even if your diet is well-rounded as is, you might want to ensure you’re getting enough of this important nutrient.
Why? Not only does vitamin D naturally support bone health, it may also help support weight-loss efforts. In fact, when vitamin D levels are lacking, your body will convert sugar to fat instead of energy. Furthermore, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that those who took a combination of vitamin D and calcium (see #4) trimmed more inches off their stomachs than those who didn’t take supplements.†
Boon for you: Research consistently shows that adequate vitamin D levels organically encourage a brighter, more optimistic mood by activating the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Translation? You’ll be in a better frame of mind to face whatever may be in front of you, whether it’s a tough workout, the demands of the new year—or the food on your plate.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.