Do you wonder if you need supplements to support your low-carb diet? Most low-carb diet authors and dietitians recommend supplementation, especially in the beginning.
Lack of essential nutrients can derail your diet, no matter how hard you work.
Getting all the required vitamins from low-carb food is certainly possible. But it does require meticulous planning. If you don't have the time or the patience, a multivitamin is a cheap insurance policy against any possible deficiencies.
Choosing the right multivitamin for your low-carb diet
Low-carb lifestyle is still niche. Mass-market food companies design their products for people on a "standard diet". You know the one I mean - recommended carb intake of around 300g a day, plenty of grains and fruit, up to 20g of sugar a day, etc.
Supplements market is no exception.
Most generic multivitamins include vitamins and minerals up to 100% of the daily recommended values. These figures ("Nutrient Reference Values" in the UK, "Daily Values" in USA) are the official governmental recommendations on nutrition.
But again, these figures assume the standard diet, and so aren't relevant to anyone who is on low-carb.
If generic multivitamins aren't optimal, how can you find the right product?
You will need to look at more concentrated specialised products, designed for people who are not on average diets. To find an optimum multivitamin formula for your low-carb diet, check that it is:
- contains extra-strong B and C vitamins
- contains electrolytes - sodium, potassium and magnesium
- contains one or more extra ingredients: chromium, L-Carnitine, green tea extract, piperine, probiotics, co-enzyme Q10
Let's look at each point in detail.
The last thing you want on a low-carb diet is a hit of pure sugar with your supplement.
Unfortunately, generic multivitamin products tend to be sugar-coated. Some contain sugar-based fillers like dextrose or maltodextrin. Although the amount of sugar is small, carbs do add up. Don't spend your limited carb allowance on supplement coating.
So our number one requirement for a low-carb diet multivitamin - it must be completely sugar-free.
Iron is an essential mineral. But too much iron can be harmful. Doctors advise caution when taking iron supplements.
Meat and green leafy vegetables are excellent sources of iron. Both are staple foods for low-carb dieters, providing plenty of iron naturally. So additional iron supplement is unnecessary and possibly harmful.
The only exception is vegetarian low-carb diets. I am not entirely sure how this is possible but some people manage to pull it off. Vegetarians should supplement iron, as they don't get any from meat.
When choosing a multivitamin formula, look for an iron-free product.
Extra-strong B and C vitamins
Whole grains and fruit are high in B and C vitamins, but also high in carbs. Since there won't be much of either food in your diet, you need to watch your intake of these vitamins.
B and C vitamins are essential for the normal functioning of most of your body's systems and organs. Supplementing these vitamins can also have a therapeutic effect, for example, helping to reduce fatigue and increase energy-yielding metabolism.
Most low-carb diet authors recommend taking supplements of B and C vitamins with extra-strong dosages. If you are on a ketogenic diet, with only 20-30g of carbs a day, you could go as high as 2000-3000% of NRV for B and C vitamins.
Electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium
You must drink lots of water on a low-carb diet, to assist your kidneys. You will most likely feel extra thirsty anyway.
There is just one issue with drinking lots. It flushes out essential minerals and electrolytes from your system. Depleted electrolytes can result in muscle cramps and headaches.
Your multivitamins should ideally contain a range of minerals. Sodium, potassium and magnesium are the key ones to replace. You can also get extra sodium by adding more table salt to your food.
Specialised multivitamins may also include one or more extra ingredients, known to help with fat-burning metabolism and cravings. Although not a requirement, these nutrients can give your diet an extra boost.
Chromium plays a role in regulating glucose, insulin and lipids. Studies indicate that it can reduce hunger and sugar cravings. For this reason, chromium picolinate is a popular supplement amongst dieters. Chromium is often included in multimineral formulas. To get the full benefits, you need at least 200µg a day (500% of UK NRV).
Carnitine is important for your body's energy production. It transports long-chain fatty acids into the mitochondria to produce energy, concentrating in tissues that utilise fatty acids as a dietary fuel. Most people don't need to supplement carnitine. But if you are on a ketogenic diet, L-carnitine supplement can help to speed up ketosis and boost your fat-burning metabolism.
According to Dr Atkins, Co-Enzyme Q10 works in collaboration with chromium and L-Carnitine to mobilise fat and reduce metabolic resistance. Some multivitamin formulas include CoQ10 in tablet form. However, oil-based CoQ10 supplements have better absorption properties. So it's better to take CoQ10 as a separate oil-based supplement, or take it together with your omega oils.
Green tea extract
Green tea has a strong reputation as a diet aid. Research shows that it can help to control blood sugar, boost fat-burning metabolism, improve energy levels and reduce sugar cravings. It is also a strong antioxidant. Green tea extract is a popular ingredient in multivitamins.
Capsicum, Piperine, Bioperine
Another popular group of diet supplements is spice extracts from the pepper family. Benefits may include improved digestive health, better fat metabolism and increased energy. They can also improve absorption rate of other nutrients, and so work well as part of a multi-nutrient supplement.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that live in your digestive system and help to keep it healthy. When you switch to a low-carb diet, probiotics may help your system to adjust while you get used to eating different types of food.
Multivitamins are not magic weight-loss pills
Multivitamins help to protect your health while you diet. They can help you cope with some common diet problems, such as tiredness or sugar cravings, making your diet easier overall. But only if you do the work - sticking to your diet and doing some exercise.
Multivitamins are NOT magic pills to make you lose weight directly. Nothing works like that. Any product that claims otherwise is a fraud. At best, it would be a waste of money and at worst, might actually harm your health.
Other low-carb diet supplements
In addition to your multivitamin, you might also want to consider omega oils, co-enzyme Q10 and fibre supplements. Read more about low-carb diet supplements.
Although supplements can enhance your nutrient intake, they are not a substitute for a varied and balanced diet. On a low-carb diet, the best strategy is to use up your carb allowance on the most vitamin-rich foods you can find.
Try to include the following low-carb high-vitamin foods to your diet:
- Green vegetables: spinach, kale, collard greens, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
- Salad vegetables: bell peppers, tomatoes, radishes, bean sprouts, spring onions
- Fish and seafood: salmon, mackerel, mussels and other shellfish
- Berries: blueberries, blackberries, strawberries
- Nuts and seeds: hazelnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Offal meats (I know it's a bit ew but they are packed with nutrients): liver, kidneys
And don't forget eggs, sour cream and cheese.
Lemons are low in carbs but packed with vitamin C. Just squeeze a bit of lemon juice to your drinking water.
Checking claims on supplements
Dietary supplements market is huge. With so many different benefits and health claims listed on each label, how do you know what to trust? There are some independent sources where you can double check information about supplements and their health benefits.
EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods - European Union has stricter regulations than USA when it comes to health claims on supplements. European Food Safety Authority reviews related scientific studies and verifies all health claims used on supplements labels. You can use their online register to check if a claim is authorised.
UK NHS - NHS provide a simple guide to vitamins on their website. When looking at their recommendations, bear in mind that they also assume "standard diet" rather than a low-crab diet.
Examine.com - in-depth guide to all vitamins and minerals, health claims associated with each, and a review of whether available scientific research backs up these claims
Buying low-carb diet multivitamins
Low-carb diet is still niche, and the size of the market is small. Big supplement brands are either not interested, or don't have the necessary expertise to design products for this small group of consumers.
One massive supplements company (its name starts with C and ends with M) rolled out a low-carb multivitamin about 10 years ago - bit it was sugar-coated! It flopped and got discontinued.
Atkins Nutritionals used to produce their own supplements, according to Dr Atkins' own formulations - such as Atkins Basic 3. Unfortunately, these have also been discontinued.
In recent years, several smaller independent companies started to produce supplements designed exclusively for low-carb dieters.
Best low-carb diet multivitamins
The following brands produce multivitamins and other supplements designed especially for low-carb dieters.