Most dietary supplements are useless, but here are the ones you should take

So you want to feel healthier. It seems simple enough: Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and exercise, and maybe take a few supplements to speed the process along.

Or not.

Recent research finds that not only do these supplements most likely not help you slim down, bulk up, or get more energised — they’re also harmful.

A large October study from the federal government linked supplements — sold under brand names like Hydroxycut and Xenadrine — with 20,000 ER visits each year. On Tuesday, the DOJ filed criminal and civil enforcement actions against 117 makers of these products.

So here are the supplements you should take — and the ones you should avoid:

Creatine: Skip it and eat meat instead.

Oleksandr Briagin/Shutterstock

All of us produce natural, low-level amounts of creatine, a compound that helps our muscles release energy. Studies show that we produce more when we regularly eat meat. Research suggests taking creatine supplements could have moderate benefits on specific kinds of short-intensity workouts; it appears to help muscles make more of a chemical energy transporter called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

But not surprisingly, there's no evidence that it's beneficial for other types of exercise involving endurance or aerobics. So treat yourself to the occasional steak dinner instead.

Folic acid: Take it if you're pregnant or if you might want to get pregnant.

Our bodies use folic acid to make new cells. The NIH recommends that women who are currently pregnant or who want to get pregnant take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily because their bodies demand more of this key nutrient when they are carrying a growing foetus.

Plus, several large studies have linked folic acid supplementation before and during pregnancy with decreased rates of neural-tube defects, serious and life-threatening birth defects of the baby's brain, spine, or spinal cord.

Fish oil pills: Skip them -- you can eat salmon instead.

It's been claimed that the omega-3 fats in fish oil can boost brain function.

But the evidence isn't very strong: A 2012 review of 3 large studies found that omega-3 supplements taken for anywhere between 5 months and 3 years didn't improve memory or verbal skills in older people who were free from dementia at the start of each study. 'Direct evidence on the effect of omega-3 ... on incident dementia is lacking,' the authors wrote in their study.

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