Many people ask me: what supplements should I be taking if I practicing calorie restriction? Well, there are many types of CR diets, so it’s difficult to give a general answer.
Some people eat a vegetarian or vegan diet and therefore need to supplement certain vitamins and minerals. Other people eat an omnivore diet and can get away with supplementing less if their diet isn’t too low in calories.
When I first started to read about supplements I was very excited to learn about all the amazing benefits and how they were ‘little miracles in a bottle’. For example, in 2005, there was a lot of research and hype around the supplement resveratrol.
Scientists had discovered that resveratrol was a sirtuin activator and speculated that it might let one get the benefits of calorie restriction without having to actually do the diet. It turned out later that resveratrol failed to have any significant life-extending benefits if used in healthy animals. But it worked on animals that were obese, at least.
Resveratrol is just one supplement out of many which have failed in trials. Later on, work was abandoned on this molecule and others derived from it. However, David Sinclair who was involved in this research had learned a lot and went on to other projects that were more promising for extending lifespan (this work is related to NAD+ and its effect on health and longevity).
Since getting involved in health and longevity, I’ve learned that we can’t be too optimistic about supplements without seeing hard evidence that it extends lifespan in animals. Many supplements fail, even if earlier work was very promising. And there are things to worry about for people on a CR diet.
It’s possible that certain supplements might undo some of the benefits one gets from being on a calorie restriction diet. Can you imagine living this way for many years, only to find out the supplements you’ve been taking actually inhibit some of the benefits from the diet? That would be bad!
So, while I don’t think that supplements are a miracle cure for everything and can be a bad idea in some cases; that’s not to say that there aren’t some supplements which you absolutely should be taking!
Which supplements to take on a CR diet?
Below are some of the supplements that I recommend you think about supplementing if you’re on a high plant-based CR diet.
If you are vegetarian or vegan it is so important that you are supplementing vitamin B12. Many studies have shown that both groups tend to be very low in B12. This is especially true for vegans!
Vitamin B12 is very safe to take and can be found in many different forms. Developing a deficiency in B12 can take many months to occur, so if you’ve not experienced any symptoms yet, you might do later on. Definitely have your B12 levels checked periodically to ensure everything is good!
When I started calorie restriction, it wasn’t long until I started noticing signs of a magnesium deficiency despite the fact that I was getting plenty from my diet. The symptoms continued for about one year before I figured out what was going on. As soon as I supplement magneisum, I started to feel a lot better.
If you’re undergoing a lot of stress and weight loss, it’s possible to lose more magnesium and therefore supplementing for a while might be a good idea.
Magnesium is also great for improving sleep, reducing anxiety, as well as being super important for bone health: something that you should be mindful of when you’re losing weight.
Check out my article on how magnesium and zinc together can help you sleep better at night!
If you tend to do a lot of work indoors or you go through periods where you don’t get a lot of sunlight (perhaps you’re a night owl like me?), taking a vitamin D3 supplement is crucial for maintaining optimal health and well-being.
Vitamin D regulates many genes and is important for our immune system, mood, bone health, and much more. There has been a lot of research over the last decade on this vitamin, and it’s been shown that most of us do not get enough in our diet to protect us from vitamin D insufficiency.
It’s recommended that people take between 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D3 to remain healthy.
On a plant-based, you’ll be consuming a lot of copper but not much zinc. This can cause a secondary zinc deficiency and result in poor immunity, skin issues like acne, hair loss, and other problems if not corrected.
Copper is able to compete for absorption in the gut with zinc and since we don’t get much zinc on a plant-based CR diet, this will become a problem for many of us. It’s therefore important that we supplement to make up for the lack of zinc and include foods high in zinc in our diets.
It’s recommended that we try to maintain a zinc-copper ratio of 8:1 to 10:1. This means you will need to get around 8 mg of zinc for every 1 mg of copper.
Check your diet using apps like cron-o-meter to ensure that you’re somewhere in this ballpark. If you’re not, I highly recommend you supplement zinc.
See my article on zinc and read how it completely stopped my acne when I started to supplement zinc picolinate on a daily basis. It also had many other benefits such as thicker hair, better skin in general, and better immunity to the point that I’ve not been sick while taking it.
Allicin is derived from garlic and has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Allicin is easily one of my favorite supplements because of how it has helped me overcome health problems in the past and how it prevents other health issues.
I cannot tell you how many times I feel it has helped prevent or allow me to get over a cold rapidly. I take garlic supplements every day to protect myself.
I had a bacterial infection many years ago and nothing would work to cure it, no matter how many antibiotics I was given. I decided to try this supplement after a friend recommended it to me and had some great results.
Before I started to take allicin, I decided to do some research and found that it acted synergistically with antibiotics to clear infections. It does this by lowering the minimum inhibitory concentrate (MIC) and reversing resistance.
In many studies, allicin is able to work by acting as a quorum sensing inhibitor and thus the bacteria cannot communicate well or create a strong biofilm. This leaves them vulnerable to the immune system and antibiotics.
Using allicin max helped me get over a very hard to treat UTI infection where several years of antibiotics failed. Read more about my story and which garlic supplement I used.
Allicin is available in creams and supplement form, but it’s recommended you use both if needed. Just make sure that you either get Allicin Max if you’re in the UK or make sure that it contains an ingredient called allisure.
Our microbiome is so important to our health but many people have taken antibiotics during their lifetime which has likely disturbed the natural gut flora. I recommend that you take probiotics for a while to help improve your microbiome.
Probiotics can have several health benefits such as improved psychological health, immunity, skin and hair health, digestive health and more.
Supplements can be a great help for people who struggle to get certain nutrients in their diet for whatever reason. There is nothing wrong with taking a supplement if it allows you to meet your daily requirement. Being deficient in essential nutrients can have a negative impact on health and lifespan if not corrected.
I recommend that you try to start with the basics as I’ve mentioned above, and then consider other supplements which are more specific to your needs. I have written many articles on this site about various supplements for different health conditions, so be sure to have a look around!
Article reviewed and updated: February 2019.