IN A PERFECT WORLD, we'd get all the nutrients we need on our dinner plates. In our world, we don't even come close: Less than one-fourth of us eat five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, the minimum recommended by the American Heart Association. Factor in a national fondness for refined flour and sugar and we're pretty much guaranteed to fall short of the nutritional mark. Even "enriched" flour is augmented with only some of the nutrients (the B vitamins) that were lost in the refining process, while refined sugar contains no vitamins or minerals at all. Enter supplements. They're convenient, they're affordable, and they're everywhere. That's the problem. Every week we hear about a must-have that can make us livelier, leaner, lovelier, or happier—if we took them all, we'd rattle! What to do? The short answer: Take five. It's a nice odd number—and about the maximum number of supplements that most people feel comfortable taking. Do you live to work or live to work out? Are you a party animal or a couch potato? Follow one of the four lifestyle-based plans here:
The party animal
Are you the convivial sort, always ready to break bread or lift a glass with good friends? To counteract the possible ill effects of your celebratory lifestyle, make sure to take the following five supplements (even if you're swallowing them along with the hors d'oeuvres):
vitamin C reduces symptoms of hangover and counteracts the effects of staying out late.
BEST DOSE: 500-3,000 mg daily. Our bodies don't make vitamin C, so we need outside sources. Ester-C is the preferred form: It's nonacidic, enters the blood faster, and stays in tissues longer (combine it with bioflavonoids for greater effect). Vitamin C rapidly flushes away in urine, so take it in a time-released formula or in divided doses with food. Add extra if you're on anticoagulants, analgesics, corticosteroids, or oral contraceptives; or if you're undergoing surgery.
ALERT! Pregnant women shouldn't take megadoses of C. Chewable forms can damage tooth enamel. Aspirin and non-esterified vitamin C taken together in large doses over time can cause stomach irritation and possibly lead to ulcers. Lower your dose if diarrhea occurs.
carnitine counters the effects of alcohol and a high-fat diet.
BEST DOSE: 900-6,000 mg daily. Take L-carnitine capsules with meals. To treat heart problems or enhance physical performance, try 1,000 mg, two to three times daily. Alcohol and a high-fat diet increase your need.
ALERT! Avoid high doses if pregnant. May cause GI upset.
coenzyme Q 10 helps maintain energy throughout the body, preventing fatigue.
BEST DOSE: 30-150 mg daily with food that contains fat. Gel capsules are more potent and absorbable than powders. ALERT! Keep it away from heat and light. Mild stomach upset is possible. Interacts with the anticoagulant Warfarin.
omega3 fatty acids thin the blood, lowering the risk of heart disease, while promoting immune function and skin repair.
BEST DOSE: 250-3,000 mg daily. Use EPA, omega-3s in their pure form. Take in divided doses with fatty foods.
ALERT! If you're on blood thinners, talk to your doctor before taking omega-3s. Some people find may find omega-3s difficult to digest.
garlic helps control cholesterol that can result from consuming too many fatty and sugary foods.
BEST DOSE: 600-5,000 mcg daily of allicin, garlic's active ingredient. Look for deodorized capsules.
ALERT! People on blood-thinning medication should talk to their doctors before taking garlic.
Woman with vitamin image via Shutterstock