It probably seems like common sense that nutritional supplements are good for health. They’re fairly ubiquitous in our present culture. You can find them in health food stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, and even at gas stations, or petrol pumps! This doesn’t mean, however, that you know how to choose the best supplement brand from among the several dozen poor quality ones. And, let’s face it: if you’re going to invest in some supplements, you certainly want the best, don’t you?
So how do you determine which supplements are superior and which are not worth their weight in cash? It can be hard to tell a “good quality” supplement from one that is inferior, and there can be any number of reasons why an inferior product is the way it is.
As far as vitamins go, fillers, binders, lubricants, disintegrators, colors, flavors etc., for example, typically do not have to be listed and often aren’t. Yet some of these things make some supplements harder to digest than others or may be downright toxic—which means that your body isn’t really getting all that it should from a nutritional supplement and/or may be getting something it shouldn’t!
When choosing a supplement brand that is safe and healthy, you need to be aware of the following factors, without which you won’t be able to make informed decision.
How to Choose the Best Supplement Brand
1. Brand reputation
One simple step you can take to help recognize value is through brand name recognition and reputation. While certainly not a statistical standard, it makes sense that those companies which have been around a long time and have steady return of customers have remained in business because they have quality products.
We expect good products to sell well and bad ones to fade away into anonymity. Finding a supplement brand or company that has been around for a while and whose name you and your friends recognize is a good way to start shopping for vitamin and mineral supplements.
2. Ensure that your supplements are free of toxic fillers
Choose supplements that are free of stearates, talc, “natural” flavours [MSG], sodium benzoate etc., Even if you don’t see such ingredients listed on the label, you can ask the manufacturer/brand company to send you a written guarantee [provided the guarantee is not already on the label, or in some other written company literature].
3. Check if every batch of ingredients has been tested
Few supplement companies test every batch of raw materials to see that they are truly free of heavy metals, toxic chemicals and pesticide residues, not to mention whether they contain the potency and ingredients actually promised by the supplier. If you want to be sure that you’re getting a premium-quality supplement brand each and every time you buy it, then it behooves you to buy from a company that wants this same assurance itself.
3. Go for only liquid, powder, or vegetable capsules
One thing you may not have thought of, but which makes sense, is to avoid tablets. By their very nature, tablets need glues [also called “binders” or “binding agents,” as mentioned earlier] to hold them together. In addition, nutrients become highly heated when pressed together to form tablets. Tablets are difficult to digest and can actually pass through your body undigested, especially if you have a compromised digestive system. It’s a good idea to avoid gelatin capsules as they are made from animal parts and contain toxic preservatives, hormones and antibiotics given to the animal.
4. Choose supplements that use Grade-10 ingredients
Where herbal supplements are concerned, there is an International Herbal Grade-10 Scale that manufacturers can use when sourcing their ingredients. You would do well to find a company that uses this scale, as it gives you assurance that the ingredients are truly potent.
5. Look for third party certifications
In general, go for brands that have their products tested by third-party organizations for quality, purity, and potency. ConsumerLab, NSF International, and US Pharmacopeia (USP) are some of the reputed certification companies.
There is yet another standard of quality available for supplements you’d depend upon, trust and use. It is called GMP and it stands for “Good Manufacturing Practices.” Supplements can only carry the GMP logo if they meet certain criteria. According to the GMP Institute, US: “GMP regulations require a quality approach to manufacturing, enabling companies to minimize or eliminate instances of contamination, mix-ups, and errors. This, in turn, protects the consumer from purchasing a product which is not effective or even dangerous.”
GMP regulations oversee all sorts of issues from record-keeping and personnel qualifications to sanitation, equipment verification, and even the handling of complaints. As with most sets of rules and regulations, there is still some wiggle room within the GMP badge of honor. But, this may be a case where some standard is better than no standard at all.
Important Note About Taking Supplements
Nutritional supplements, by definition, are supplementary and you should, first and foremost, strive to get all your nutrition from a healthy and balanced diet. Take supplements to complement your diet or to address any specific nutritional deficiencies you may have. Consult your health advisor or nutritionist before taking supplements.
Nutritional supplements certainly have a place in the world of health and wellbeing. Often, they alone can make the difference between disease and good health. However this may be, it is always better to play safe than be sorry with anything you take, be it food, medicine, or nutritional supplement.
If you have a question about the supplements you are taking or want to take, visit a trained nutritionist, herbalist, or holistic health practitioner, who will be able to help you determine whether they are of good quality and right for you.
This is an updated version of the article that first appeared in the December 2006 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine
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