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Vitamins and minerals are heralded as the building blocks of nutrition—as well they should be. They give your body the tools to function optimally and stay healthy. Yet there are other substances that often get overlooked, including adaptogens, probiotics, and essential fatty acids.
Let’s take a look at how these three complementary nutritionals can help you fight stress and help your whole health—physical and mental.
Adaptogens are a class of herbs—which includes ginseng, reishi mushrooms, and ashwagandha—utilized in naturopathic and Ayurvedic medicine. They’re most frequently used to balance an over- or underactive stress and immune response in the body, promoting increased health and well-being. They also come with an array of benefits: “They range from improved cognition and mood to more balanced blood sugar levels, healthier hormones, better focus, deeper sleep, and more,” says Jenna Volpe, R.D.N., L.D., a functional registered dietitian and clinical herbalist in Austin, Texas.
Adding adaptogens to your daily routine could enhance your quality of life. “Too many people don’t know about the wonderful effects adaptogenic herbs have on our immune function and overall health,” Volpe says. “Most people would probably prefer to thrive versus just survive.” Preliminary research has linked adaptogenic mushrooms, like shiitake or reishi, with relaxation and improved immune function.
Add them to your diet: Ginger, cordyceps, and shiitake mushrooms are all adaptogens that can be added to dishes, such as stir-fries. Or look to supplements or nutritional drinks, such as Ka’Chava Superblend, that make consuming adaptogens easy because they are a part of the blend.
“Probiotics serve as the first line of defense in your gut, helping keep invaders like bad bacteria, toxic chemicals, and other harmful stuff from entering your body through the gut lining,” Volpe says. These live microorganisms also can help you digest your food more easily and effectively. And they aid in maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut and your vagina, which can help fend off infections.
The benefits of probiotics are linked to specific types of bacteria. For instance, Lactobacillus is a common genus and one of the most researched probiotics, Volpe says, pointing to a study in Enzyme and Microbial Technology that found that Lactobacillus probiotics can make multiple types of bioactive digestive enzymes. “That means they’ll help you digest your food, reducing symptoms of digestive distress while improving nutrient absorption,” she says. Some of the most common strains of Lactobacillus, L. rhamnosus and L. acidophilus, are well-researched probiotics that have been shown to facilitate better GI health as well as help improve certain health conditions.
Add them to your diet: Although there are dozens of probiotic supplements on the market, none of them alone will make up for a bad diet. “Your bacteria (in your gut microbiome) are what you eat,” says Colin Zhu, D.O., a physician, health coach, and chef in Orange County, Calif., who is the founder of TheChefDoc. “Eat fiber and the fiber-munching bacteria multiply, which means you get more anti-inflammatory, short-chain fatty acids.” On the other hand, if you don’t eat enough fiber—at least 25 to 30 grams a day—the fiber-eating bacteria starve, and your health can be jeopardized as a result. As a reminder, you can only get fiber from plants.
An easy way to get your necessary fiber is by consuming a nutritional shake such as Ka’Chava Superblend, which includes the probiotics L. rhamnosus and L. acidophilus to help support a healthy gut microbiome, along with fiber to feed the good bacteria in the gut.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids, which include omega 3s and 6s, get their name from the fact that they’re crucial for your body. “They help regulate inflammation, and they’re used in cell membrane structure within trillions of cells in the body,” Volpe says.
Because your body can’t make all of the essential fatty acids it needs, you have to get them from food and/or supplements. Although it’s easy to get omega-6 fatty acids if you’re following a standard American diet full of processed foods, it’s more difficult to get enough omega-3 fatty acids, even if you eat fish, a common source of omega 3s like EPA and DHA, several times a week, Volpe notes. Additional sources include chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and greens.
To ensure that you’re getting enough, eat a whole-foods plant-based diet and take 250 milligrams of pollutant-free (yeast or algae-derived) long-chain omega 3 supplements that contain EPA and DHA daily. “Studies have shown that these preserve brain function and structure,” Dr. Zhu says.
Add them to your diet: The National Institutes of Health recommend getting 1.1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Eating two to three ounces of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or sardines can help you get essential fatty acids. But they don’t need to just come from animal sources—chia and flax can provide these nutritional benefits too, and they may be easiest to consume in a nutritional drink. For instance, essential fatty acids from these plant-based ingredients are included in the Ka’Chava Superblend.
Food versus supplement
Eating the right foods and popping a supplement or two are the ways to get these nutrients in your diet. But what if you could find all three in a powder form, like Ka’Chava? Could that be an effective way to consume these nutritionals?
It’s possible, especially since the primary advantage is convenience. There may also be a surprising benefit. “From a gut-health nutrition standpoint, it’s beneficial and recommended for people to consume probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids with food. So taking these in powder form may work well, since the powder can be easily mixed into a smoothie or other food,” says Volpe, who has no connections to Ka’Chava.
The caveat, though? One size never fits all. “There are some people who may have adverse reactions to probiotics, even certain types of adaptogens,” Volpe says. “If you’re navigating a medical condition or taking any medication, consult with your doctor and even a registered dietitian to determine if probiotics and adaptogens are a good fit for you.”
Remember, too, that powders are designed only to complement a diet, as food should still form the foundation of your nutritional strategies. “Eat as much as you can from what Mother Nature has already provided, namely whole plant-based foods,” Dr. Zhu says.
Karen Asp specializes in fitness, health, nutrition, pets and travel and contributes to numerous publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, Woman’s Day, O, SELF, Eating Well and Forks Over Knives. She’s also the author of Anti-Aging Hacks, a fitness pro and a plant-powered athlete who holds several Nordic walking world records.