Everyone needs a top 10 list, right? Well, after 30 years in the field of nutrition I should probably have an opinion about what dietary supplements and foods are “hot” or “life-changing”, and which ones just don’t make the cut. Today I’d like to focus on the 10 functional ingredients that I think will change the world for the better. And no, I did not consult with Dr. Oz before making my list!
Remember how fascinated you were in 3rd grade when you discovered pond scum for the first time, well it probably wasn’t a coincidence, your evolutionary biology was tuning in. Nutritional algae like spirulina, chlorella, and blue-green algae are the most nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, complete food sources known to humans. Spirulina, which I’m particularly fond of, is not only a complete protein but has been shown to increase exercise performance (sorry, kale).
- COFFEE BEAN
That simple little bean is a powerhouse of nutritional benefits. Yes, I know there are those that would disagree, but let’s just look at the evidence: Caffeine from coffee beans has been shown in studies to improve mood, performance, concentration, and short-term memory and reduce dementia risk. It has also been correlated with a decreased risk of liver, prostate, kidney, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers. And here’s the kicker, there are literally thousands of nutritional chemical compounds in your daily brew, including some of the best antioxidant complexes known to science.
- TURMERIC (CURCUMIN)
Got inflammation? This yellow spice is for you. Over the last two years, there have been more than 1,000 published research studies investigating the benefits of turmeric! Not only is turmeric one of the best botanicals for pain and inflammation, but also it has been shown to have protective effects in the liver and brain. In fact, it may reduce beta-amyloid plaque, which has been linked to several neurodegenerative diseases. Now that’s worth remembering!
What do you get when you drink a glass of red wine? A headache, well only if you drink the whole bottle, but more importantly you get a healthy dose of resveratrol, a polyphenolic compound that simulates over 200 genes. Preclinical studies have shown resveratrol to inhibit cancer cell growth in culture and certain animal models. Current research is looking at resveratrol’s ability to lower glucose in type II diabetes, protection of the cardiovascular system, and possibly extend lifespan by mimicking a calorie-restricted diet. Wow, wouldn’t that be a game-changer! If you want to skip the wine, resveratrol can be found in fresh grape skins and as a dietary supplement.
Did you know your gut is home to over 100 trillion microorganisms? In fact, the human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body. And you thought the surface of the moon or the bottom of the ocean was cool, wait until scientists dive deeper into the human gut! Over 80% of your innate immune system is housed in the gut, which makes the friendly probiotic bacteria immensely important to human health. Remember, “health begins in the gut”.
Do you have a type-A personality? Are you always on the go, overworked, under-rested, or burning the candle at both ends? Oh, wait a minute, that’s just about everyone living in our fast-paced society! Here’s why adaptogenic plants like rhodiola, ginseng, ashwagandha, schisandra, and holy basil could possibly save our world from those stressed-out evil tyrants! Adaptogens can have a normalizing, balancing effect on the body’s hormonal functions, helping to energize, rejuvenate, and revitalize under-functioning adrenal and nervous systems. I know an angry little man on the north side of Korea that forgot to take his adaptogens!
- VITAMIN K2
No, this is not your grandmother’s vitamin K! This is K2 (menaquinone-7), the OTHER vitamin K that you’re only getting if you eat those fancy cheeses from Whole Foods. Here’s the rub-if you’re a post-menopausal woman, your chances of developing osteoporosis are primarily determined by your peak bone mineral density level when you were an adolescent. Vitamin K2 activates osteocalcin, which puts calcium into the bone matrix. So why aren’t we putting K2 in every children’s multivitamin? And if that wasn’t enough, vitamin K2 has been shown to reduce vascular calcification (hardening of the arteries).
- PROTEIN (whey or plant)
If you’re active, play sports, or even like to look like you play sports, you know how important it is to supplement with protein after a workout. If you want to get stronger, faster, and leaner you need to supplement with protein. And no, I’m not talking about 12lbs of grilled steak with a tuna on the side. Easily digested amino acids in the form of whey or plant protein are absolutely essential for muscle tissue growth and repair. Scientists are not far off when they refer to humans as giant walking protein molecules that need a constant supply of amino acids to function at an optimal level. Whey protein has been shown to enhance the immune system, support healthy weight loss, and have antihypertensive, anti-tumor, and anti-microbial effects.
- SALMON OIL (OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS)
Oh my goodness, where do I start? Omega-3 fatty acids, of which we as North Americans are woefully deficient, have a cornucopia of health benefits. Omega-3 fats from fish have a role in supporting heart health (blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol), brain function, and immune system health. Also, omega-3 fats are one of the best options for controlling systemic inflammation. I think salmon oil is a superior source of omega-3 fats because it’s made from 100 % cold-pressed, wild-caught Alaskan salmon that is naturally lower in contaminants. Also, salmon oil contains more healthful fatty acids and astaxanthin than comparable ocean fish. And hey, who doesn’t love the pristine waters of Alaska!
- MILK THISTLE (SILYMARIN)
If you smoke, drink, consume fructose (sugar), or take prescription medications then you had better be taking your milk thistle! Actually, anyone living in our polluted, industrialized world should be taking milk thistle. You know the liver, that giant filter on the right side of your abdomen that is the primary site of metabolic, detoxification, hormonal, and protein synthesis activities. Well, it needs some TLC from time to time. Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials have shown that an active constituent of milk thistle called silymarin can not only protect liver cells from exposure to harmful chemicals, but can enhance the liver’s detoxification mechanisms, and help damaged liver cells to regenerate!
Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics