Supplements: All my questions answered by a Registered Dietitian!


Ever wonder which supplements you should take? Are they even healthy and safe? Is there a need or benefit for protien powder or crazy cleanses in your life? I sure did! So I was so excited when Elizabeth Somer, a Nutritionist, Editor-in-Chief of Nutrition Alert!, public speaker, and author of a variety of books including The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals and Eat Your Way to Sexy, offered to answer some of my questions!

So let us get right into the Q&A session:


1. Do you recommend calcium supplements for women? Why or why not and how much calcium would we have to eat to equal a daily calcium supplement?

Elizabeth: Yes. The vast majority of women do not consume 3 glasses of milk or 18 ounces of plain, nonfat yogurt every day and consequently, their diets are low in calcium. Granted, anyone worth their weight in nutrition credentials will tell people to turn to food first, but the reality is that 99 out of 100 people, according to national nutrition surveys, don’t meet even minimum standards of a balanced diet. For calcium, I recommend 500 milligrams a day, since most women get at least some calcium in their diets, so this just fills in the gaps. They also need 1000IU of vitamin D to get that calcium absorbed and into the bones. Diets also are low in magnesium. Since most multis contain only a smattering of calcium and magnesium, I recommend a cal:mag supplement with about 500mg calcium and 250mg magnesium.  

2. When and why would you recommend a person take supplements?

Elizabeth: I recommend everyone take a moderate-dose, broad-range multi, a cal:mag, and a omega-3 DHA supplement for the reasons stated above. For example, according to the March of Dimes, 1 in every 2 pregnancies is unplanned. Folic acid is critical in the first few weeks of pregnancy before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. For that reason alone, all women of childbearing age should take a multi with at least 400mcg of folic acid. But, as said above, most diets are low in nutrients such as chromium, magnesium, iron (for childbearing age women), zinc, omega-3s EPA and DHA, etc. If a person doesn’t consume dark greens every day, the phytonutrients - lutein and zeaxanthin -  known to help protect against the major causes of vision loss, cataracts, and macular degeneration, are low. I would love it if everyone ate spinach salads every day, but they don’t. So make sure your supplement also has those phytonutrients.  

3. Is there a particular brand of supplements you would recommend over another and why?

Elizabeth: I choose the major brands who meet my criteria (supplies a broad range of nutrients in 100% to 300% of the Daily Value) or brands with the USP seal. That guarantees that what is said on the label is actually in the tablet or pill. You needn't spend a month’s wages. In fact, you shouldn't have to pay more than about $15 a month for supplements. That’s pretty cheap nutritional insurance!  

4. Are there any supplements out there that you feel have NO place in the human diet?

Elizabeth: Most of them! There is tons of junk on the market touted to solve your every health problem from heart disease to impotence. Most will drain your pocketbook without providing any benefits. Some are even dangerous.  

5. I have heard some men (mostly in the gym) talk about taking creatine, is there ever an instance that this would be recommended?

Elizabeth: First - Creatine is an amino acid found mostly in the muscles as creatine phosphate (phosphocreatine), a high-octane chemical that supplies the energy (ATP) needed for muscle contractions. Creatine also helps reduce lactic acid that otherwise accumulates in muscles during intense exercise (lactic acid is what causes that burning sensation and limits the amount of intense exercise an athlete can do). Creatine has been touted as “Nature’s muscle builder.” During intense exercise, a drop in muscle creatine and ATP levels are factors that contribute to fatigue in athletes. Taking creatine supplements apparently boosts the levels of (phospho) creatine in muscles by 20% to 30%, possibly making creatine more available for energy production. As a result, more energy (ATP) is formed, an athlete doesn’t tire as easily, and recovery from intense exercise is quicker.

Second - But will it improve athletic performance? Several studies show that taking creatine supplements might improve short-term muscle strength and the body’s ability to perform intense athletic events that require 30-second bursts of energy, such as competitive basketball, soccer, sprint swimming, weightlifting, hockey, and football, as well as short track and field events. For example, in one study, competition cyclists were able to pedal more intensely for short bursts if they supplemented with creatine. A recent study from Penn State found that men who supplemented with 25 grams of creatine lifted greater weights and boosted their number of repetitions. Sprinters jump higher and athletes can perform at top capacity longer before succumbing to fatigue when supplementing with creatine. Of course, other studies, such as one from the University of Northern Iowa, report that creatine has no effect on athletic performance.


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