Diet & Weight Loss
13 Best Vitamins and Supplements for Weight Loss
If your healthy diet and exercise plan aren’t producing results, you may just be deficient in one or more vitamins or key nutrients.
Weight-loss frustrationDavid Smart/Shutterstock
You’ve tried the grapefruit juice diet, the cabbage soup diet, the baby food diet, cleanses, and detoxes, yet you’re still not seeing the results you want. It’s not surprising, as there are at least seven reasons you’ll simply never lose weight on a fad diet. So what’s left to try? Vitamins.
“As part of a healthy living plan that includes clean eating, exercise, and stress management, we find that vitamins and minerals can play a role in weight loss and weight management,” say Arielle Levitan, MD, and Romy Block, MD, authors of the book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. “Many, if not most of us, have nutrient needs that are unmet by diet alone. When we replenish these deficiencies with the right vitamins and minerals, in proper doses, then we can satisfy our body’s nutrient cravings and in turn, reduce our unhealthy eating.”
Many of the doctors’ patients report that once they begin a regimen that includes the right vitamins for their individual needs, they’re able to eat less while making better food choices, and find they have more energy to exercise and plan meals. In addition, they tend to sleep better—and that also helps with weight control. Sold? Here are the top contenders.
For those with an underactive thyroid gland, weight management can be challenging. Iodine is an often-overlooked mineral that supports your thyroid, the butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls your metabolism (and numerous other crucial body processes). While table salt is enriched with iodine, many people are switching to sea salt and other fancy options, and they may miss out on iodine. And no, that trendy pink Himalayan sea salt doesn’t provide iodine.) “Some multivitamins contain the recommended amount of iodine (150 mcg daily), but many do not,” according to Dr. Levitan and Dr. Block. Just don’t overdo it: “Be wary of high-dose iodine supplements, as these can inflame your thyroid and lead to palpitations and anxiety.”
When you are low in vitamin D, your body will convert sugar to fat instead of energy, warns Dr. Friedman. Vitamin D levels are lower in overweight individuals as well as in those who are physically inactive and this deficiency is a common cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that overweight and obese adults taking vitamin D supplements along with calcium lost significantly more stomach fat than people not taking any supplements. You may think you’re getting your daily dosage of vitamin D from the sun, but read up on the eight signs you’re not getting enough sunlight. The best way to see if you are deficient is to have your doctor check your blood levels. “If you are deficient in Vitamin D, there are two supplement options: vitamins D2 and D3,” says Dr. Friedman. “I recommend D3 because it is much more effective at raising vitamin D blood levels than D2.”
We’re facing two major health threats worldwide: Iron deficiency and obesity. And research suggests it is no coincidence. One study revealed a reduction in waist circumference, body weight, and BMI when patients were treated for their iron deficiency. Women are at particular risk, as they lose iron throughout their lives due to menstruation. “Those who are iron deficient may have trouble losing weight, and therefore, appropriately replenishing iron levels can help with weight loss,” according to Dr. Levitan and Dr. Block. “Typically iron should be paired with vitamin C to aid in absorption. In addition, iron plays a role in energy levels—when we feel energized, we are more inclined to exercise, which, of course, can assist with any weight loss efforts.” If you aren’t a big fan of red meat, up your intake of these 11 iron-rich foods that even vegetarians can enjoy or look for a supplement that provides just the right amount: Men need 8 mg per day; women require 18 mg daily.
Magnesium is an essential mineral, and research suggests it can relax your muscles, help you feel calm, and improve your sleep—and all those things can help you lose weight. “A lack of sleep is a key contributing factor to weight gain,” says Dr. Friedman. In his book, Food Sanity: How to Eat In a World of Fads and Fiction, he lists sleep deprivation as a leading cause of the obesity epidemic, and plenty of research supports this notion. A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that poor sleep raised blood sugar levels and slowed the body’s metabolism. “If you are suffering from insomnia, it could be due to a magnesium deficiency,” he explains. “People with low magnesium often experience restless sleep, waking frequently during the night. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter. Magnesium increases GABA and can improve sleep quality.” The recommended dietary allowance of magnesium for men is 400 to 420 mg; women need 310 to 320 mg. Don’t miss the best vitamins for sleep.
Carnitine is an amino acid that shuttles fatty acids through the cells of the body and throws them into a metabolic furnace, burning fat instead of storing it, explains David Friedman, a doctor of naturopathy, clinical nutritionist, and chiropractic neurologist. Studies have shown that obese patients may have a carnitine deficiency. A 2013 clinical study found that taking 500 mg L-carnitine per day in combination with motivational therapy could lead to increased weight loss in people who were overweight. On average, the volunteers lost nearly a pound of body fat within four weeks—and they didn’t change their diets or level of exercise. The Linus Pauling Institute recommends that anyone who does decide to take carnitine supplements should consider taking L-carnitine at 500 to 1,000 mg per day.
Think you’d be more successful at losing weight if only you had the energy for longer workouts? Beta-alanine is a precursor to a molecule called carnosine, which is concentrated in muscles and the brain; it helps buffer the buildup of acid in muscle cells—the reason we feel fatigued after exertion. Researchers have found that 4 to 6 grams of beta-alanine can boost levels of carnosine in skeletal muscle and improve exercise performance in quick burst efforts (about two to four minutes), such as occur in high-intensity interval training. And that’s a good thing if you’re trying to lose weight, because you burn fat faster doing high-intensity interval training than traditional cardio. Beta-alanine seems to boost how much effort you can generate while delaying fatigue. Dr. Fundaro warns that “a common side effect of beta-alanine supplementation is tingling of the neck, face, and hands. There is no evidence that this is harmful, but there are no long-term studies on chronic beta-alanine supplementation.”
Similar to beta-alanine, L-citrulline will help you get more out of your workout. While research is still emerging, there is evidence that L-citrulline supplementation may improve performance during high intensity exercise, such as interval training. Current recommendations range from 5 to 7 grams of L-citrulline per day, taken far in advance of a workout. Because L-citrulline dilates and relaxes blood vessels, Dr. Fundaro says it can trigger a drop in blood pressure; people with heart or blood pressure issues should check with a doctor before trying this supplement.
Gymnema sylvestre is known in the Indian healing tradition of Ayurveda as a “sugar destroyer”—and researchers have tested it for its anti-diabetic properties. (Unfamiliar with Ayurveda? Here are nine things you need to know.). This herbal product works as an appetite suppressant that reduces sugar absorption, lessens cravings for sweets, and promotes normal blood sugar. “The acids from the leaf act as sweetness inhibitors, meaning they will reduce the taste and joy of sugar in your mouth,” says Dr. Friedman. “Research shows people who take Gymnema one hour before eating ate less than the participants who had not taken Gymnema.” Gymnema is typically found in capsule form, although powders and teas are available as well—choose one that doesn’t contain fillers and binders. For those on diabetes medications, Gymnema can affect blood sugar levels, so talk to your doctor first.
Glucomannan is a type of fiber found in the roots of the elephant yam (also called konjac). Glucomannan absorbs water, giving you the feeling of fullness so that you eat fewer calories. Research has shown that taking glucomannan, combined with a healthy diet, helped some study subjects lose eight to ten pounds of weight over five weeks. It has also been shown to delay emptying of the stomach, keeping people feeling full longer. “Glucomannan is a healthy fiber that helps relieve constipation and feeds the friendly bacteria in the intestine,” says Dr. Friedman. “Healthy gut bacteria can help the body attain a normal body weight.” He suggests taking glucomannan with a glass of water about a half hour before meals. For weight loss, a dosage of 1 gram, three times a day is considered ideal. Start slow, though: You may experience bloating, flatulence, and soft stools, and it could interfere with some oral medications if you take them at the same time.
If you’ve been thinking, “Why isn’t chocolate ever on these lists?” your moment has arrived. Theobromine is an organic alkaloid found naturally in chocolate that is used for its appetite-suppressing effects, and cocoa beans contain up to 1,200 mg of it. The substance also increases the sensitivity of the sugar-processing hormone insulin sensitivity—so cocoa may help with glucose regulation in diabetes.
Research published in Discovery and Innovation analyzed theobromine’s effect on weight loss. The researchers found that adding a small amount of the cocoa ingredient into the diet of rats led to rapid and significant weight loss. If this sounds like a perfect excuse to get your chocolate fix along with some daily theobromine, there’s a hitch: It has to be dark chocolate—at least 85 percent cacao. Milk and white chocolate won’t cut it. If you aren’t a fan of bitter chocolate, Dr. Friedman says you can purchase theobromine cocoa extract capsules (400 mg) and take two per day. Don’t miss the three other health benefits of dark chocolate.
Go ahead, savor your morning cup of joe: Caffeine promotes the release of epinephrine—adrenaline—which encourages the breakdown of the fat stored on your body. Some research indicates that 100 mg of caffeine (about the amount in one cup of coffee) can boost calorie burn even in people who regularly drink coffee. “Caffeine increases thermogenesis, or calorie burn, for a few hours after consumption,” says Dr. Fundaro. “Contrary to popular belief, caffeine does not cause dehydration, but it can cause elevations in heart rate and blood pressure.” Therefore, young children, pregnant women, or individuals with heart disease should avoid it.
Matcha teaStacey Newman/Shutterstock
Matcha is a type of green tea but, instead of steeping a tea bag, you whisk a powder made from the ground leaves into hot water. Drinking matcha daily might prevent lifestyle-related diseases like obesity. “While green tea is a popular weight loss aid because of the antioxidant epigallocatechin (EGCG), which boosts the metabolism during exercise,” explains Dr. Friedman, “matcha green tea has even more EGCG and therefore offers even better weight-loss properties.” That’s just one of the many benefits of Matcha. You can purchase matcha tea in coffee shops and at grocery stores, or you can add matcha powder to smoothies.
Many dieters experience hunger and an increase in appetite, and that can lead them to overeat. Fiber could help: Fiber deficiency is common in the United States, says Gabrielle Fundaro, PhD, a sports nutritionist and assistant professor of exercise science at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, GA. The average American eats about 15 to 17 grams of fiber per day; the RDA for women is 25 grams; for men, it’s 38 grams a day. Supplementing your diet with fiber can help you eat less, quell hunger, and lose weight—plus it can boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Increase the fiber in your diet by eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—here are 30 ways to get more fiber in your diet without even trying.