Your Perfect Supplements
Your Perfect Supplements
Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the supplement aisle and find the best quality products to suit your needs and the most important certifications to seek out.
1. If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
This seems like a no-brainer, but marketing claims can be deceptive. “If a supplement claims that it should do something that you know requires more than a pill, be wary,” says Ashley Koff, RD, author and creator of Ashley Koff Approved and the Better Nutrition Program (ashleykoffapproved.com). “The front of the package is like an online dating profile—they are trying to woo you with all of their best attributes. Turn it over to see what they aren’t saying on the front.”
Keep in mind that both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) monitor manufacturers to ensure supplements are accurately labeled and contain authentic claims. Under the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), companies are required to substantiate the identity, purity, quality, strength, and composition of their ingredients.
2. Do Some Research
“We are living in the information age,” says Daniel Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of the Natural Products Association. “Take advantage of this by researching companies and asking questions: Is the company transparent about their ingredients? Do their products have important certifications? Are their formulas third-party tested?” For products that say “third-party tested” on labels, this means that an outside organization has verified that what’s on the label is in the product.
It might seem obvious, but the easiest way to gather this information is simply to poke around a company’s website. Fabricant also recommends the following two websites if you want to dig deeper into research on alternative remedies. There is also a consumer section on the NPA’s website with extensive information on supplements, regulations, and buying tips (npainfo.org).
Clinicaltrials.gov: A database of clinical trials conducted around the world. “Look for companies who invest in research,” says Fabricant. “In general, they are committed to manufacturing high-quality, effective products.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (nccih.nih.gov): This federal government agency oversees scientific research on medical practices and therapies that fall outside the field of conventional medicine.
3. Look for Transparency
“We want to know what we are taking in,” says Koff. “Is it better for us, the planet, and the people who are growing and harvesting the ingredient?” Today, manufacturers are creating a transparency revolution through certification programs (see sidebar, below), ingredient traceability, and even detailed information on the farms and farmers growing their ingredients. Many even have their own farms.
Here’s where you actually do want to judge a book by its cover—companies that are committed to transparency and to using superior ingredients are proud to advertise it on their labels. “If you choose organic and non-GMO foods, if you avoid artificial colors and sweeteners most of the time, if you choose humanely raised wild fish, etc., you should do the same with your supplements,” says Koff.
4. Seek Out the Active Form
Certain nutrients can be harder to absorb for some, such as vitamin B (try the methylcobalamin form) and folate (look for 5-MTHF). Fortunately, many of these are now available in forms your body can assimilate and utilize more efficiently (look for the words “bioavailable,” “optimized,” or “active form” on labels). This is especially the case if you’re over 40, as digestion starts to grow sluggish with age. This doesn’t mean, however, that traditional forms of nutrients are ineffective. Everyone’s body is different, so keep that in mind.
5. Ask Yourself, “Why Am I Using This?”
Supplements help prevent nutritional gaps, aid in replenishing stores of essential vitamins and minerals, and provide therapeutic support (as a complement or alternative to medication), says Koff, who believes a product “should do one or all three of these.” It’s important to have a “why” when deciding on whether to use a supplement, says Fabricant. “Do you really need 1,200 mg of vitamin D a day? Get your levels checked and then pick out a supplement that meets your needs,” he says.
6. Shop at Brick & Mortar Stores
There are few people as passionate and knowledgeable about supplements as health food store owners and their employees. When you buy a product online, you’re missing out on advice from seasoned professionals. Health food retailers know what works based on customer feedback, and they are intimately familiar with different formulations. Best of all, they love helping people find a product that works.
Supplement Certifications Guide
You’ll find a variety of bona fide certifications on supplement labels— here are four of the more common ones you’re likely to encounter.
What It Means: The products’ ingredients have been produced according to rules set by the USDA Organic Program, as well as certified by a third-party organization approved by the USDA. Organic ingredients cannot contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). usda.gov/topics/organic
Non-GMO Project Verified
What It Means: Ingredients are free of GMOs and have been tested and authenticated by the Non-GMO Project Product Verification Program, a nonprofit, third-party organization for food and products. nongmoproject.org