Taste of Health Francesca Ballicu | 11 months ago

How to Choose the Best Nutritional Supplements

Decoding nutritional supplement labels for optimum health.

It’s cold and flu season, and you know what that means – getting enough immunity-boosting vitamins is more important than ever. Here’s what to look for when buying nutritional supplements to safeguard your family’s health.

Choose based on quality & reputation

First, look for a product that has been manufactured at a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility. A GMP facility must comply with high standards – the same standards mandated by the US Food and Drug Administration for pharmaceutical manufacturers. Products that are labeled “USDA organic” and “GMO-free” are also great choices. As far as reputation goes, you can find out if a brand has an authentically loyal fan base by doing some fast online research (http://www.quality-supplements.org is a good resource). If they’ve also earned the respect of other health professionals, you know you’ve found a winner.

Understand therapeutic dosages & USP label indications

The therapeutic dosage is the minimum amount of a nutrient necessary to provide any real benefit. As a point of reference, always choose supplements that have clear labeling, complete with individual ingredients and the total amount contained in each serving. This goes for single-ingredient supplements and multivitamins. Beware of supplements that contain several ingredients combined in a proprietary blend. Supplements using proprietary formulas are required to reveal only the ingredients in the formula and the total amount of all combined ingredients. They do not have to list the amount of each ingredient separately. Unfortunately, some companies use proprietary blends so that they can get away with adding a miniscule amount of an ingredient so that they can legally include it on the label. This is a common practice in both the supplement and cosmetic industries and is known as fairy dusting.

Don’t discount the “other ingredients”

 Besides listing the active ingredients, supplements are required by law to list all inactive ingredients. These include:
  • Binders
  • Fillers
  • Coatings
  • Colorings
  • Flavorings
 You’ll find these in the small print at the bottom of the label listed as “other ingredients.” Some are needed to hold the supplement together and allow it to be easily swallowed. Others are unnecessary and unhealthy additives, such as artificial flavors and colors and sugar in the form of sucrose. Be especially wary of these additives in children’s chewable vitamins and gummies. Lastly, you may find other cautionary statements on the label such as “free of soy,” “contains shellfish,” or “keep out of reach of children.”

Look for nutrients proven to work

You always want to know why a certain ingredient is in a supplement. Before buying, do some research to find out if the particular ingredient or ingredients have been clinically proven to support health. Fortunately, many natural supplement companies do this work for you and provide links to outside studies on their product’s label. If you are ordering supplements online, be wary of any product that doesn’t have a copy of its full label on its website, listing all active and inactive ingredients. Some brands only show key ingredients, so you can’t know exactly what’s in their product until you have a bottle in your hand. If they don’t, you can always go to reputable third-party sources to see if there are any proven benefits for a particular vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, or other natural substance. Here are a few great independent research sites: Prior to purchase, please keep in mind that nutritional supplements are still medicines. “Just because a product is available over the counter doesn’t mean it’s good for you or safe,” says G. Ryan Shelton, MD, internal medicine physician at Mecklenburg Medical Group-SouthPark, part of Carolinas HealthCare System. “Always check with your doctor before starting new supplements. So many of them are metabolized through the liver and when supplements are combined with medications (prescription and non-prescription meds), there is potential for interaction and possible harm.” Finally, he says, “If the label makes unrealistic claims, they probably are just that, unrealistic.” Do you wish you had a community to inspire you and support the choices you make to improve your family’s nutrition habits? Now you do. Join the conversation, or start your own, using #TasteOfHealth.