Given our busy and stressful lifestyles, we may not always make the best diet choices. “Modern agricultural processes can deplete the nutrients found in our food, due to the chemicals we use for preservation and storage,” shares Vivianna Wou, nutrition director from Food Advisory Group. And if we have pre-existing medical issues, such dietary deficiencies can trigger a host of health problems, from fatigue to chronic diseases like osteoporosis. To plug some of these nutritional gaps, our experts have recommended eight essential supplements that can be taken as part of a balanced diet.
TO SAFEGUARD BONE HEALTH, YOU NEED… CALCIUM
“Calcium is integral for building strong bones. It optimises bone mass and protects against osteoporosis,” shares Vanessa McNamara, dietitian at The Travelling Dietitian. Says Vivianna: “However, getting sufficient calcium from dietary sources like dairy can be quite difficult, so calcium supplements make a good addition to your diet.” In fact, according to the Health Promotion Board, adults need a whopping 1000mg of calcium a day.
Try Omical ($31.90 for 60 tablets), which is available at Guardian, Watsons, Unity and selected hospital pharmacies and health food stores. It's an organic calcium supplement derived from natural milk sources, that is more readily absorbed by the body. Each tablet supplies your body with 250mg of elemental calcium, which is roughly equivalent to a glass of milk. Take two tablets once or twice a day, or as recommended by your doctor.
TO FIGHT FATIGUE, YOU NEED… IRON
Iron is essential for the normal functioning of the body. It is responsible for healthy immune function and for the production of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. “A lack of iron might therefore lead to lethargy, poor concentration, shortness of breath and dizziness,” says Vanessa. On average, women should be consuming 19mg of iron daily, although it is advisable to get your iron levels checked out before starting on iron supplements, she advises. “Those suffering from haemochromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron from the diet, should also refrain from taking iron supplements,” adds Vivianna.
TO COUNTER HAIR LOSS AND BRITTLE NAILS, YOU NEED… BIOTIN
According to Vanessa, biotin deficiency sometimes occurs as a result of pregnancy or rapid weight loss, resulting in thinning hair and brittle nails. To counter that, she advises taking biotin supplements to improve hair and nail health. Biotin, also known as Vitamin B7 or Vitamin H, is found in high-protein foods like meat and dairy, or in the form of multivitamins and B complex tablets. The B-complex vitamin is also increasingly found in haircare products from shampoos to conditioners and even serums, although consuming it orally yields the best results.
TO PROTECT AGAINST CHRONIC DISEASES, YOU NEED… POLYPHENOLS
Polyphenols are micronutrients that are associated with a host of benefits. “These phytochemicals and flavonoids possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and have excellent healing qualities. They can help prevent heart disease, cancer or autoimmune diseases,” shares Vivianna.
While polyphenols are readily found in foods like berries, soya products, green tea and wine, you might want to boost your intake with a polyphenol-rich supplement like Pomi-T ($49.90 for 60 tablets), which is available at Guardian, Unity and selected hospital pharmacies and clinics. It contains a blend of purified green tea, pomegranate seed extract, broccoli extract and turmeric.
TO TREAT DRY AND SCALY SKIN, YOU NEED… VITAMIN C
Dry and scaly skin can be attributed to factors like sun exposure, diminished immune response and even harsh cleansing products, says Vivianna. “Antioxidants like Vitamin C can prevent skin damage and speed up skin healing when taken orally or applied topically. This is because it supports the production of collagen, a protein that keeps skin strong and supple,” she continues.
“Besides repairing skin, tissues and ligaments, Vitamin C can also block some of the damage caused by free radicals,” adds Vanessa. Good sources include citrus fruits and vegetables like broccoli and tomatoes. Alternatively, opt for multivitamins or effervescent tablets that make for a zingy and refreshing treat. The recommended daily dosage for adults is 75-90mg.
TO MANAGE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, YOU NEED… OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These fatty acids play a key role in our body’s circulatory processes, improving blood flow, promoting normal blood clotting and lowering triglyceride levels. They are good for managing conditions like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“The best natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids are oily fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna,” says Vanessa. Fish oil supplements are also a popular choice if you don’t get enough fish in your diet or stay away from it due to concerns about its high mercury content. Healthy adults should aimfor 500mg of omega-3 fatty acids daily.
TO PREVENT BIRTH DEFECTS DURING PREGNANCY, YOU NEED… FOLIC ACID
“Folic acid is critical for the formation and proper functioning of DNA and RNA. Hence, it helps to reduce the risk of birth defects like cleft palate and spina bifida,” Vivianna says. According to the National Institutes of Health in the US, you should increase your daily intake of folic acid to 400mcg at least a month before trying to conceive.
Leafy green vegetables and fruits are natural sources of folic acid, but cooking and storage may destroy the nutrient content in these foods, says Vivianna. Additional supplementation in the form of prenatal vitamins is therefore recommended.
TO COMBAT THE EFFECTS OF AGEING, YOU NEED… ANTIOXIDANTS
Our bodies naturally produce free radicals, which can cause an array of degenerative diseases associated with ageing. Antioxidants are micronutrients that protect against the oxidative damage caused by these free radicals; however, our bodies aren’t able to manufacture enough of them. As such, it's important to supplement our diet with antioxidant-rich foods like berries, beans and even potatoes.
Try Kawana Health’s Acai Supreme Antioxidant ($91.60 for 120 capsules), which is available at Four Seasons Organic Market. It contains a potent blend of seven nutrient-dense berries, including acai, noni and pomegranate. The capsules are organic, vegetarian, gluten- and dairy-free, so they’re suitable for just about everyone.
TO TREAT DIGESTIVE ISSUES, YOU NEED… PROBIOTICS
This might sound off-putting, but probiotics are actually “good” live bacteria that promote digestive health. They reduce the amount of “bad” bacteria in your body, which are responsible for gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea.
While probiotics are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, you can also get them from supplements. Try Optibac Probiotics For Daily Wellbeing ($27.80 for 60 capsules), which is available at Four Seaons Organic Market. The probiotic strains in these capsules have been scientifically tested for their health benefits, and contain no artificial sweeteners, colours or flavourings.
This article was originally published in Simply Her April 2015.