Starting in 2009, I began working part time in the supplement section of a local health food store in Maryland wherein I was completely submersed in the overwhelming (and often unnecessary) world of dietary and herbal supplements. When I started, I knew absolutely NOTHING. I was just starting my masters degree in herbal medicine and nutrition, and they hired me on the spot because I would "catch on quickly and learn my way around". True that - after about 6 months I felt like I could navigate the in's and out's of all of those CoQ10's and calcium combinations, and after 5 more years I could talk about supplements, brands, products and manufacturing practices all day. At the end of last year, December 2014, was when I finally parted ways with working in the supplement section of health food stores having been a member of three different awesome stores from Maryland to Virginia. 

I still keep close ties with Ellwood Thompsons (I'm their health coach and offer FREE appointments there, as well as consult with them on incoming products) and their supplement section is a big part of their offering. I'm constantly talking with people about how to choose supplements, which ones are necessary and which ones may not be, how to read labels, and how to research product companies to get high quality products. Making educated decisions about supplements, both dietary and herbal, is essential if you plan to continue taking supplements for any long period of time. The supplement world is not really regulated, it's self regulated, so making sure to buy supplements from reputable and clean sources is of utmost importance. Not all supplements are created equal, and as a general rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. 

As a nutritionist, my philosophy and practice is to almost always try to get the nutrients we need from actual whole foods and nutrient rich herbs not supplements. The only time I recommend supplements is if, 1) the person cannot eat or does not have access to certain foods for particular nutrients, or 2) they have a legit absorption issue where they cannot absorb the nutrients they need from food. There is a time and place for dietary supplements (and as a culture we're extremely lucky to have them), however I feel that they're often overused, and used as a replacement for good, solid nutrient rich foods. People feel like they can slack off on their diet if they're taking supplements, and it just doesn't work like that. 

There are some products that are designed to enhance nutrients or support digestion that, when still eating a wholesome organic diet, can be nice to have on hand as part of your daily nutrition practice. I keep only a few things around that I take on a daily basis that serve my individual nutrient needs, and this will vary from person to person. 

1. Fish Oil - I don't eat fish (or anything that came out of the water) EVER. I just can't handle it, smell it, touch it or look at it. I can't even go to an aquarium. I absolutely know that I need to supplement with this omega-3 rich oil due to the extreme lack of it in my diet. Omega-3 (and omega-9) are essential fatty acids because they body does not make them - they must be obtained through foods like salmon, cod and anchovies, or through nuts and seeds like chia, flax, walnuts and hemp seeds (which I eat on a daily basis). Make extra sure to find high quality fish oil - here's why

2. Probiotics - If there's one supplement I think almost everyone could benefit from, it's a good quality, comprehensive probiotic. These little bacterial critters play an enormous role in our digestive health, overall immunity, emotional stability, and even help to manufacture mood stabilizing hormones like dopamine, taurine and serotonin. The probiotics in our gut can be influenced by a variety of factors like environmental inputs, chronic stress, anti-biotic or pharmaceutical drug use and of course our daily diet. It's so easy to deplete the probiotic reserves in our body that it's almost always helpful to supplement with extra probiotics to help maintain the balance. Also eating fermented foods like kimchi, kraut, kombucha, kefir, yogurt and miso will help increase probiotics too!

3. Turmeric - I eat this as often as I can with foods, and I also either take a capsule with each meal, or mix about 1/2 teaspoon in some water daily for increased anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Although many supplement companies tout the benefits of only taking curcumin alone, it's my stead fast belief that utilizing the entire root of turmeric works much more efficiently and comprehensively in the body that one single constituent alone. The same can be said for almost any herb that people tend to want standardize. 

4. Triphala - In Ayurveda, this three-fruit blend of amalaki, bibhitaki & hiritaki has been used for generations to support digestion - especially the lower bowel and colon. It is considered tri-dosha and supportive of any constitution to both gently cleanse the lower digestive tract while also being extremely building and nourishing. Ayurvedic philosophy considers the colon to absorb the "prana" or life force from foods, and keeping a healthy and strong digestive, cardiovascular and lymphatic flow is essential for the absorption of prana into our body. 

5. Greens Powder - I only take this during the days or seasons when I can't get "enough" greens on my plate. Although almost every meal I have usually has veggies and fruits of some kind, if a day to two goes by and I just crave some extra greens, I'll mix some organic greens powder in some water or juice for an extra dose of minerals instead of taking a multi-vitamin. I also drink these anytime I would like some freshly made juice in the winter time when I don't have access to my favorite juicing veggies. I usually alternate between Amazing Grass and Health Force

Every now and then, I'll throw in some extra supplements depending on the season or my fluctuating state of health. These are the essentials though and tend to find their way into my daily routine almost 100% of the time. I'll have further posts on how to navigate deciding on, purchasing and researching supplements in the future, too! What have been the essential nourishing items in your medicine chest over the years?