How to Fill Nutrition Gaps in Special Diets

Gluten free, vegan, low glycemic. Everyone has a dietary need or preference these days. And sometimes it can be difficult to find the right supplement to fit your needs. The key, as obvious as it might seem, is to read the fine print on a label and then ask your natural retailer questions if the details aren’t clear.

Over the past couple of decades, supplement companies in the natural foods industry have cleaned up their act, getting

rid of most problematic ingredients. “That’s great news for careful eaters and people with food allergies,” says Ron Hunninghake, MD, chief medical officer of the Riordan Clinic in Wichita, Kansas. “It’s easy to find supplements that complement the many dietary habits or restrictions people have.”

Here’s the lowdown on what to look out for—and common pitfalls to avoid.

Gluten-free supplements

It’s easier to control gluten-free eating at home, but you have a higher risk of accidental gluten contamination when dining out. This is where supplemental dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-4) can help. DPP-4 is an enzyme that breaks down gluten. It won’t protect against a pizza or bowl of pasta, but it will likely counter small amounts of gluten, such as the low amount in many soy sauces.

Most supplements don’t contain gluten, but read the label carefully anyway. Wheat free isn’t the same as gluten free. And some whole-food supplements might contain barley, rye or wheat—all of which contain gluten. Don’t use wheat germ oil, because small amounts of gluten pass through the oil-extraction process. And vitamin E? Don’t sweat it. Virtually all natural-source vitamin E now comes from soybean oil, which doesn’t contain gluten.

Vegan-friendly supplements

Vegan and vegetarian supplements are usually clearly labeled. Still, read the fine print. Most—but not all—softgel capsules, which range from golden to brownish in color, are made from gelatin, an animal byproduct. Hard capsules may be derived from either gelatin or vegetarian sources, and companies usually state if it’s a vegetarian source.

Fish and krill oils are derived from sea creatures, but the omega-3 fats are now available from vegetarian sources. Vitamin D2 is made from fungi, and most vitamin D3 is produced from sheep lanolin (the oil found on sheep wool). However, some companies now sell lichen-sourced D3. Bone meal and some digestive enzymes come from animal sources.

Strict vegans are at risk for some vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, zinc, selenium, iodine and amino acids (which the body uses to make protein). Vegetables are poor sources of vitamin B12, and plants contain phytates, which reduce mineral absorption.

Dose: Shore up your nutrient intake with a quality, daily multivitamin with minerals.

Blood sugar management

With an estimated 100 million Americans prediabetic and another 30 million with type 2 diabetes, controlling blood sugar has become a focus for many people. Monitoring carbohydrates and eating healthfully is crucial, but supplements can provide an edge. Silymarin, an extract of the herb milk thistle, has been shown to lower blood sugar and other markers of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Chromium is needed for normal insulin function. And so is high-dose biotin, a B vitamin that regulates genes responsible for carb breakdown.

Dose: 200 mg of silymarin three times daily; 500 mcg of chromium twice daily; 5,000–10,000 mcg of biotin daily

Special diet-approved supplements

Longtime supplement retailers and users recognize how the industry has changed—and how companies now accommodate people with special dietary needs. Gone is lactose as a binder and filler, except in homeopathic remedies. Conventional drugstore brands may not be so “clean.”

Enzymedica GlutenEase.

Contains dipeptidyl peptidase-IV (DPP-4), the enzyme that breaks down gliadin, the problematic protein in gluten. This supplement is best used in conjunction with a gluten-free diet to minimize the effects of gluten contamination.

Country Life Vegan D3.

This is the way to go—a clearly labeled, vegan and gluten-free vitamin D supplement in a softgel capsule. Each vegetarian capsule contains 5,000 IU of vitamin D3, which is derived from lichen (instead of sheep lanolin).

Pure Vegan Advanced Vegan Multivitamin.

Vegans can reduce their risk of nutrient deficiencies by taking a multivitamin. Two capsules daily provide a high-potency multivitamin, along with modest amounts of most dietary minerals.

Nature’s Way Thisilyn Liver Support Formula.

The liver works in tandem with the pancreas to regulate blood sugar levels, and silymarin (extract of milk thistle) has long been used to support liver function. Each vegetarian capsule provides 140 mg of silymarin.

Carlson Nutra-Support Diabetes.

A moderately high-potency multivitamin that contains extra amounts of nutrients to support normal blood sugar levels. Two capsules daily provide 1,000 IU vitamin D3, 800 mcg vitamin K2, 1,200 mcg of biotin and more.

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