—at least if you’re buying the generic varieties from Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart or GNC. According to four cease and desist letters filed earlier this month by the New York State attorney general’s office, many of the store-brand supps from these popular retailers are stamped with falsified claims about key ingredients and health benefits. What’s worse, some of the pills were found to contain substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies—like Walmart’s “wheat- and gluten-free” supplement made from little more than powdered radish and, yup—you guessed it—wheat.
Although the investigation only looked at Ginkgo Biloba, St. John's Wort, Ginseng, Garlic, Echinacea and Saw Palmetto, there’s a possibility that other vitamins and supplements you’re swallowing aren’t what they claim either. Dietary pills don’t go through the same strict regulatory FDA approval as traditional medications, so supplement manufacturers are responsible for screening their products for safety and efficacy. They’re also responsible for ensuring that their supplements’ contents match what’s declared on the label. How reassuring.
With all this troubling information circulating, it’s completely understandable if you want to say sayonara to your supplements and reap their nutritional and weight loss benefits through your diet instead. To help you out, Eat This, Not That! checked in with Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City-based dietitian and Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet, and created the dietary plan below that can help you consume some of the most popular vitamins and supplements through your food.
Best for Calcium
Daily Recommendation: 1,000 mg
While you should be aiming for 1,000 milligrams of the bone-building mineral each day the body can only absorb 600 milligrams at a time, says Kaufman. Your solution? Consume foods rich in the nutrient all throughout the day. Mix oatmeal with a cup of milk for breakfast, enjoy a Greek yogurt as an afternoon snack, make a kale and spinach side dish for dinner, or top some whole-grain crackers with two or three sardines and a squeeze of fresh lemon. It’s a little known fact that varieties of the fish canned with the bones are super rich in calcium. Just 3 ounces serve up 325 mg, or 33 percent of the recommended daily intake.
Best for Echinacea or Ginseng
Daily Recommendation: N/A
If you’re one of the many people who pop an echinacea supplement at the first sign of the sniffles, we come bearing bad news: Consuming the flower may not be very effective. According to a 2015 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, echinacea supplements only minorly reduce the incidence of colds. If you’re not ready to give up the stuff no matter how small the benefits may be, that’s totally fine. Just ditch the unregulated supplements and opt for an echinacea tea instead. It’s a safer, more potent bet. The same suggestion holds true for ginseng. Opt for an herbal ginseng tea instead of the pills. Enjoy this tea and many more without complete guide featuring the 22 best teas for weight loss.
Best For Vitamin C
Daily Recommendation: 75-90 mg
For most people, a large orange or a cup of chopped red pepper will provide enough vitamin C for the day, say Gans and Kaufman. Other sources of the nutrient include berries (red varieties are in the running for best fruit for weight loss), dark green leafy veggies and tomatoes. Add berries to your morning oatmeal or yogurt, add red peppers and leafy greens to omelets or throw tomatoes on a sandwich or into a salad—there are a ton of delicious ways to get your daily dose of the vitamin without a pill.
Best for Biotin
Daily Recommendation: 30 mcg
“Biotin is generally used for hair, skin and nail growth,” explains Kaufman. However, instead of taking a supplement, she suggests sipping some hot bone broth. If you don’t have time to whip up a homemade batch (which is the most nutrient-dense bet), Pacific Foods makes a decent alternative that can be found at grocery and health food stores. Pair it with a salad as a quick grab-and-go lunch.
Best for Garlic
Daily Recommendation: N/A
Fresh garlic is a source of an antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral chemical called allicin. But because the chemical is also to blame for giving garlic its strong odor, some supplement manufactures age their garlic to rid it of its odor, which also reduces the chemical’s potency, explains Kaufman. Eating fresh garlic is always better because you will get the full protective benefits of allicin, she notes. Roast your favorite veggies in the oven and top with olive oil and crushed garlic to reap the benefits.
Best for Fish Oil
Daily Recommendation: 1,000 to 2,000 mg
You likely already know that omega-3s are found in fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines and tuna, says Gans. But the nutrient is also found in grass-fed beef, edamame, flax and chia seeds. Fortified eggs are another source that can be easily integrated into your daily diet. Look for cartons that say the eggs are enriched with the heart-healthy fatty acids next time you're at the grocery store.
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