Chromium is like the low-key beige sneaker of the nutrient world. It might not have the immediate recognizability of vitamin D or omega-3s, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice this hard-working mineral is actually everywhere.
Elle Macpherson included it in her metabolism-boosting WelleCo Super Elixir Nourishing Protein Powder. Olly’s new Flawless Complexion vitamins blend chromium with skin-friendly power players such as vitamins A and E. And it’s present in all sorts of prenatal and multivitamin supplements, including those from The Honest Company and Goop.
So who, exactly, is this mysterious supporting actor making cameos on so many labels—from those promising glowing skin to ones geared toward women’s health? And should you be clearing room for it in your medicine cabinet?
Here’s why chromium can be seriously good for your health and how to add it to your diet for max benefits.
It’s all about insulin
Chromium’s main superpower is balancing blood sugar, which is why doctors have traditionally recommended it for type 2 diabetics.
“It appears that chromium works by increasing the sensitivity of the cells in the body to insulin,” says Susan Blum, MD, founder and director of the Blum Center for Health. “Giving diabetics chromium helps reduce their blood sugar and improve their condition.”
Of course, an out-of-whack glucose level is something that even non-diabetics may grapple with. For one thing, it’s commonly linked to hormonal disorders like polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. “PCOS is associated with insulin resistance,” says Dr. Blum. “Chromium has been found to help treat [its] symptoms.”
“[Stable blood sugar] helps with everything from weight to skin health.”
Blood sugar is also closely tied to skin health. “When people consume a diet high in sugar, it tends to affect the quality of their skin,” explains Taryn Forrelli, a naturopathic physician and vice president of innovation at Olly. (Hence, the dreaded sugar face.) “Insulin stimulates testosterone, which can cause an increase in sebum production. But if you’re getting enough chromium, your insulin is going to work more efficiently, and so you’re not going to get as many of those [glucose] spikes.”
Now, that’s not to say that a supplement containing chromium is going to heal any serious medical conditions. But there’s no denying that balanced blood sugar is something worth striving for, says nutritionist Brooke Alpert. “My goal for all of my clients, first and foremost, is to stabilize blood sugar levels and to keep them steady consistently,” she says. “This helps with everything from weight to skin health. Studies demonstrate that chromium can help with insulin sensitivity, which is the first step to keeping blood sugar under control.”
There are lots of ways to get it
Good news for those with overflowing supplement cabinets—you don’t need to buy a separate bottle of chromium to reap its benefits. Both Alpert and Dr. Blum say that you’re often able to get the recommended minimum of 200 mg per day from a multivitamin. (Just read the label to see if it’s included.)
The nutrient’s also found in lots of whole foods, according to Dr. Blum. “It’s easy to get enough chromium if you’re eating a Mediterranean-type diet,” she says. “Whole grains, seafood, eggs, broccoli, nuts, sweet potatoes, and apples all have a good amount.” There’s also tons of chromium in brewer’s yeast, adds Alpert.
But when it comes to blood sugar balancing, the nutritionist notes: “Nothing beats a low-sugar diet filled with tons of vegetables, quality protein, and some fruit.” Now that’s the nutritional equivalent of black leggings—a classic approach that’ll never go out of style.
If you’re thinking about ditching the (oh-so-addictive) sweet stuff for good, check out this beginner’s guide to cutting it out of your diet. And here’s what to expect during every phase of a sugar detox.