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Every single one of the nutritionists we polled takes vitamin D daily – a sign that this is a nutrient that should be on everyone’s radar. A fat-soluble vitamin, this nutrient is also a hormone precursor, and it plays a role in bone health, supporting immunity and even cancer prevention. Getting out into the sun is the primary way to get vitamin D, but since many are being more diligent about sun safety, deficiency is common. (What’s more, if you live in the northern part of the United States – above the 37th parallel – you can’t get enough sunlight for most of the year for your body to make enough.) The dosage for vitamin D is debated, but the only real way to know if you’re getting enough is to take a blood test, according to Erin Macdonald, RDN. She points to the Vitamin D Council recommendation that blood levels of vitamin D should be 50 ng/ml, with the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. If blood levels are low, Macdonald suggests taking 4,000 to 5,000 IU daily to start, and then 2,000 IU daily as a maintenance dose.
“I was diagnosed with osteopenia in my thirties and took it upon myself to ensure that I would improve my bone density and prevent an early onset of osteoporosis. Most people think that calcium is all you need to build stronger bones, but bone requires vitamin D, vitamin K and a number of minerals to ensure proper formation. I also take plenty of vitamin D to keep my immune system strong, as having four children ensures that I am constantly being exposed to germs they bring home from school.” – Erin Macdonald, RDN
We now know that taking care of your microbiome – the community of bacteria, yeast, viruses and other microbes in your gut and on your skin – is one of the most important things you can do for your body, impacting your mood and cognitive health, immune system and inflammatory markers. Probiotics, or good bacteria, may contribute to a healthier microbiome by helping to balance good and bad bacteria – and our panel of nutritionists agree, with four out of five of our experts taking a probiotic supplement daily. (In fact, Kathrin Brunner, the only nutritionist on our panel who doesn’t take one daily eats copious amounts of probiotic-rich fermented foods.) The takeaway: Unless you’re eating fermented foods on the regular, a probiotic supplement is probably good insurance. Look for a wide range of strains in your probiotic supplement, according to holistic nutritionist Jesse Lane Lee. She suggests opting for one that includes beneficial strains such as L. acidophilus and B. bifidum.
“When there is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, it can cause digestive issues, poor immune function, skin issues and fatigue, just to name a few. Before taking probiotics I was bloated all the time, which was super annoying. When I first started taking probiotics 10 years ago, I saw a huge improvement in my digestion.” – Jesse Lane Lee, CNP
Known as adaptogens because they help the body manage and adapt to stress, this class of plant compounds come in several forms such as medicinal mushrooms, berries or roots. You may have heard of some of the more popular varieties such as maca root and medicinal mushrooms like reishi and cordyceps. Each has a slightly different effect: Maca helps balance hormones, reishi is helpful for anxiety and stress, and cordyceps helps to energize and increase libido. Two of our five nutritionists take adaptogens daily, sometimes cycling between various forms of them. Generally speaking, adaptogens are quite safe, but holistic nutritionist Kathrin Brunner recommends talking to your health practitioner if you’re taking any type of medication as some have contraindications.
“I find that when I’m experiencing higher stress in my life, adding reishi helps me feel calmer, think more clearly and helps me fall asleep at the end of the day. If I don’t take an adaptogen of some kind when I’m stressed, I immediately notice my jaw clenches, my breathing becomes shallow, I’m more frazzled and I don’t sleep well. With the support of reishi, I feel calm, collected and ready to face any challenges.” – Kathrin Brunner, CNP
Oils from cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and anchovies contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), forms of omega-3 fats that are linked with reduced inflammation, lower blood pressure as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia prevention. Including fatty fish in your diet at least twice a week is recommended, but a supplement can help fill in the gaps. In fact, four out of our five nutritionists polled take a fish oil supplement daily. Look for a product that’s sustainably caught, recommends Kate Geagan, RDN, who opts for a wild Alaskan fish oil in her daily routine.
“Fish oil has a vast body of data around it for its cognitive and cardiovascular benefits, plus it has anti-inflammatory effects.” – Kate Geagan, RDN
The majority of Americans aren’t getting enough magnesium from food, according to the National Institutes of Health – so it’s not surprising that two out of our five nutritionists polled consider this mineral to be an essential daily supplement. Magnesium is a key factor in bone health, it relaxes blood vessels (thereby reducing blood pressure), relieves sore muscles and is even used to make glutathione, a powerful antioxidant produced by the body. Older adults, those with gastrointestinal diseases (such as Crohn’s or celiac disease), type 2 diabetes or alcoholism are at particular risk for magnesium deficiency due to reduced absorption. Jonny Bowden, PhD, recommends looking for magnesium citrate or glycinate, and avoiding magnesium oxide and carbonate, as they are less absorbable forms.
“I’m a tennis player and I’m given to really bad leg cramps, especially at night. I take drinkable magnesium, which mixes in water in a jiff and gets right into my system, and it’s just been terrific – when I remember to take it before bed, I almost never get cramps.” – Jonny Bowden, PhD