How to Buy Vitamin Supplements: Be a Savvy Consumer

We are a pill popping society, and we know it. It is what Americans seem to love to do. But, do you really know how to buy vitamin supplements? It’s best to be a savvy shopper, as there’s no sense in making poor supplement choices that may hurt you and your wallet. There is such a thing as too much of certain nutrients. Understanding some key points on how to buy supplements will make you a savvy and healthier consumer.

supplement fact label

Supplement Fact Label

Who might benefit from supplement use?

People that would benefit from supplements include: those with nutrient deficiencies, women of childbearing years, or the elderly on certain medications. People with low calorie intakes and those that skip entire food groups might also benefit. While it is always best to have your nutritional requirements met through a healthy food selection, appropriate dosages of supplements can “supplement” your diet by filling in the gaps.

The bad news on supplements

The bad news about supplements is that overdoing dosages can be harmful to your health. Many people have the “if some is good, more is better” mentality. The truth is that scientists have documented upper limits of safety, and beyond those limits you are putting your health at risk. Mega doses of supplements are actually categorized as drugs, and excessive amounts of supplements can cause symptoms ranging from nerve damage to liver failure.

Another little known fact is that just because you can purchase a supplement at a store, doesn’t mean it is safe. Supplements sold in this country have virtually no regulation in terms of safety. Under current law, the FDA is responsible for taking action on unsafe supplements already on the market. But, it does not need to screen or pre-approve a supplement before it gets to the store shelves. This means you need to be a savvy supplement shopper if you decide to take supplements.

Here are 5 tips to help you buy vitamin supplements:

  1. Look at the Supplement Fact label (example in above photo); choose a multi-nutrient supplement that does not have very high percentages of nutrients (around 100% Daily Value (DV) would be safe). If many nutrients are 200% or higher, consider selecting a different supplement.
  2. Look for the USP symbol or text on a label.usp logo on a supplement lable
    The USP symbol or text means that the supplement will dissolve in your digestive system, and the ingredients are guaranteed.
  3. Supplements with added ingredients such as parsley, alfalfa, and herbs offer no added health benefit to the consumer. There would be too little added to the supplement-best to just eat the parsley!
  4. Don’t let terms such as “stress relief”, “time release”, or “natural” drive your brand selection. These are only marketing terms!
  5. Because there is no regulation on supplements prior to arriving on the store shelves, consider purchasing supplements that are name brands. These companies are more likely to have their own internal high quality control standards, as they have a reputation to be protected, which can also ultimately protect the consumer.

If in doubt about whether to supplement or not, a registered/licensed dietitian can assist you! And remember, you are still getting nutrients from foods that are fortified, like cereals.

For additional safety guidelines on supplement use, click here.

What are your thoughts about supplement use and safety?

 

 

Magnesium: Would You Benefit from a Supplement?

supplements from a bottleMagnesium is everywhere in our diet

It is fairly abundant in green leafy vegetables, peas, broccoli, nuts, seeds, lentils, whole grains, fish, and bananas and even tap water. With that stated, most references will state that there is only a small percentage of people in the US not meeting their magnesium requirement. Interestingly, when my nutrition college students would assess their diets with nutrition analysis software, they almost never consumed the required 300-400 mg. of magnesium.  So, I guess that begs the question of what “nutritional” camp are you in? Do you implement healthy eating and try to eat a variety of foods on a regular basis, or do you shun whole grains, fruits, vegetables? Perhaps you are trying to eat a healthy diet, but have opted to decrease your carbohydrate intake along the way, which can also impact your consumption of magnesium rich foods since many carbohydrate rich foods are sources of magnesium.

Medical conditions thought to benefit from supplementation include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and GERD treated with certain medication
  • Menstrual pain
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Hearing loss
  • Hypertension
  • Leg cramps in pregnancy

Fibromyalgia

Tough pain times mean its best to tackle it toughly.  I am all too familiar with this pain and the impact on daily life since I have it. Most of the time I manage fairly well, but sometimes with extreme stress it will rear it’s very ugly head. Recent events in my life seemed to have triggered the pain to a increased level for an extended time period. I will now begin supplementing with magnesium as one type of adjunct therapy for my pain. There are many prongs of intervention and management for fibromyalgia, so keep in mind this is not meant to be a sole treatment recommendation for everyone suffering from fibromyalgia, only one potential aspect of management. Again, there are many aspects of management-far too many to address is this blog.

Guidelines

Keep some guidelines in mind when taking a magnesium supplement for any reason.  When selecting a supplement, you want to try and ascertain the product actually contains the labeled amount of magnesium, is untainted with contaminants, and it breaks apart for digestion. And lastly, cost per pill may be an issue. While you can figure out the cost per pill with a calculator, the rest of the list is a bit murkier to sift through. The vitamin industry is self-regulating, so go with a name brand as quality control will be high on their list oUSP logof concerns.  Take note if the USP logo on a supplement label is present. This logo assures the nutrient will actually be absorbed, rather than passing though your body undigested.

Additionally, keep these points in mind:

  • MAGNESIUM OXIDE-economical, but absorbed less effectively; may cause diarrhea in susceptible individuals
  • MAGNESIUM CITRATE AND MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE may be formulas that are better absorbed and may have fewer side effects if taken at higher dosages.

Lastly, remember these supplements are meant to supplement the magnesium you are consuming through your diet. If you are not clear on the amount of supplement you might benefit from, consult a qualified dietitian for advice.

Have magnesium supplements helped you with any of your medical concerns? Do you have a brand you trust?

 

 

 

To Supplement or Not: 5 Facts To Factor

News coverage over the last few days seems to be revolving around the weather, the holidays, and of all things nutritional supplements!  While I can’t comment about most of the current media topics, I do have a few words to say on the topic of supplements! If you listen to the media hype over the last few days, there are some recurring statements from the so-called experts.

Expert comments

Some “experts” note our nutrients should come only from food. Others suggest  “natural” whole foods be put into pill form. The truth and correct answers are most likely somewhere in between the black and white statements made by these so-called experts. Unfortunately, not one “expert” ever suggested that each person should be evaluated on a case by case basis. To determine if supplements are right for you, consider these tips:

Supplements fill in dietary gaps

If you eat a healthy diet, there is a fairly good chance you can skip taking pills! If you are lactose intolerant, don’t eat any foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, or are vegan, then you may need a supplement. Consulting a licensed/registered dietitian can help you sort out what you may need to be doing with supplements.

Supplements are of benefit to your health if you have a documented deficiency 

Wondering if you should really be taking vitamin D supplements? You should have a blood test to determine if you need to be taking a supplement. Once blood work is done on my clients, most have turned out to be deficient. Correction of a deficiency is usually easy to do with diet or supplements. For a vitamin D deficiency, sunshine may be the prescription!

Be aware of upper limits of safety 

Many people taking multiple supplements forget they may be doubling or tripling their intake of a nutrient because they are taking multiple pills. Beyond a certain limit, it can be dangerous to ingest too much of a single nutrient. Some nutrients can even be toxic if taken in excess. Your favorite dietitian can be your best resource for this information!

Food is your best source of nutrients 

Mother nature packages foods perfectly with the best combination of nutrients. The mixture of nutrients designed by mother nature work effectively together. With that stated, those people who eat a lot of processed foods and a limited diet may indeed benefit from specific supplements. An evaluation of your diet and eating habits is the best way to move forward with accurate supplement recommendations.

Regulation of supplements

If a supplement is reported as unsafe, the stores are required to pull the product. Until then, it’s buyer beware as the supplement industry is strictly self-regulating. With that stated, the savvy consumer choosing to take supplements should consider well-known brands. Well known brands want to protect their reputation. They  will have high quality control standards. Using lesser known brands may result in lower quality control. Even arsenic and lead have tainted some supplements in the past few decades.

Not all supplements are good or bad. Not all people need supplements. Consulting a professional to evaluate your diet prior to making recommendations both improves your health and saves you money.

Eat Potassium Rich Foods to Lower Blood Pressure

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), having high blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke. Both conditions are leading causes of death in the United States. About 75 million Americans (32%) have high blood pressure. Only about half (54%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control. Adding potassium rich foods to lower blood pressure is one important key to lowering your blood pressure.

The Role of Potassium Rich Foods

We’ve all heard that reducing sodium intake can help lower blood pressure. What consumers are less aware of is that dumping the salt in your diet may be only 50% of what you need to do to prevent high blood pressure and stroke risk. The rest of the story on lowering blood pressure has to do with eating enough potassium rich foods. Potassium is found primarily in unprocessed whole foods. When people eat lots of calories and abundant amounts ofpotassium rich foods unprocessed foods, it is not problematic getting the 4700 mg. recommended intake. Slash your calories and eat a lot of junky processed food and it becomes much harder to reach your potassium recommendations. Eating these low sodium and potassium rich foods will lower your blood pressure and reduce your stroke risk.

  Potassium Rich Foods Low in Sodium

Potassium (mgs)                    Sodium (mgs)

One medium potato                                       926                                            17

One cup winter squash                                  896                                             2

One cup low sodium V-8 juice                       820                                          140

½ cup pitted dates                                         584                                              2

One cup low sodium tomato juice                 556                                             24

½ cup spinach                                                510                                            25

½ cup sweet potato                                       398                                             68

½ cup kidney beans                                       370                                              1

One small banana                                          362                                              0

1/3 avocado                                                    356                                              2

½ cup prune juice                                           353                                              5

½ cup uncooked oatmeal                               335                                              2

1.5 oz. box raisins                                           322                                             5

3 oz. cooked beef or chicken                          290                                           47

½ cup cooked broccoli                                    278                                           29

One cup raw sliced mangos                           257                                            3

¼ cup wheat germ                                           256                                           3

½ cup any melon                                              242                                          27

½ cup orange juice                                           240                                           1

½ cup cooked carrots                                      183                                           45

One oz. walnuts (14 halves)                            125                                            1

One tablespoon ground flaxseed                       82                                            4

                                                  

Choose more of these foods and slash your sodium while boosting your potassium. This boosts your chances of steering clear of stroke and high blood pressure!

 

Is Your Dietary Supplement Downright Dangerous? 5 Tips to Protect Yourself!

Many Americans naively pop vitamin and mineral supplements and guzzle various types of protein powders, thinking they are helping with overall health. The reality is that many of these supplements can be downright dangerous! In fact, according to recent newspaper headliner, the 28 billion dollar supplement industry has serious and widespread manufacturing flaws. These flaws are extensive enough have the potential to harm our health. From quality control to formulation issues, the product you are taking may not be what you are thinking it is. There may be much more or too little of a specific nutrient. Even lead, arsenic, and rodent feces have been known to contaminate our supplements.

As a potential consumer, it needs to be understood that the supplement industry is a self-regulating industry. That means the government does not directly oversee the quality control of a supplement. Companies are largely left in charge of their own standards. Under current laws, the FDA does not screen supplements for safety before they hit the consumer market. The FDA only takes action regarding supplements on the market once there is a documented issue with the supplement. The FDA relies on manufacturers themselves, as well as consumers, to report any adverse effects.

Proactive steps to take when purchasing supplements

Buy name brand supplements

Well-known brands may have better “in-house” quality control standards because the reputation of the company is at stake. Steer clear of companies you have not heard of.

Look for the USP label

This label means that the supplement has been at least evaluated for ingredients stated on the label. It also means the product will dissolve in your digestive tract rather than passing straight through your body. The symbol does not guarantee any other health or safety advantages of the supplement.

Look at the Nutrition Fact Label on the supplement

Note the percent daily value of the nutrients. If you see values of many nutrients far exceeding 100%, don’t be duped into thinking this is a good thing. Consumers need to understand that too much of a nutrient can be very harmful. We have upper limits of safety for many nutrients, and we should avoid exceeding those upper limits of safety.

Consider using the Internet to investigate your supplement before taking it

Consumer Labs is an independent testing lab that evaluates supplemental products and makes the test results available for a small subscription fee. The analyses and data are extensive and informative.

 Consider having a dietitian evaluate your current diet.

A dietitian can evaluate nutrient shortcomings and make appropriate recommendations to meet those dietary deficits with the correct dosages of nutrients. Or better yet, a dietitian can help you find the foods you like to eat to give you the nutrients you need!  After all, mother nature does the best nutrient packaging of all.

Do you ever think about safety issues regarding supplement use?

Hey Seniors, Reach for These 5 Dietary Supplements

Link

Supplements for seniorsWhile daily use of multi-nutrient supplements has fallen out of favor by some health professionals due to some recent studies, there are five supplements many seniors should take. While food is always the best source of nutrients, certain circumstances with aging may warrant adding these supplements to your diet! Here are the 5 recommended supplements for seniors :

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

We have too little of these essential fatty acids in our diet. While fish can be a good contributor of omega-3-fatty acids, eating fish a few times a week is not necessarily going to be insurance requirements are met. Other food sources include walnuts and flaxseed, but consistency is key. If these foods are not eaten regularly, a fish oil supplement a few times per week may be helpful.

CoQ10

We make this nutrient, but we make less of it as we age. If you are taking a statin drug to lower your cholesterol level, the statin drug will limit your body’s ability to make this nutrient. Consider taking CoQ10 if you are aging or on a cholesterol lowering statin!

Magnesium

While distributed in a wide variety of foods, my clients are often consuming too little of this nutrient. Magnesium may be easily washed and peeled away from foods during processing. A decreased calorie consumption also means less is being consumed through food.

Vitamin D

It is best to get your baseline blood vitamin D levels checked, but chances are you will benefit from at least some additional supplemental vitamin D. While we can make this vitamin, we make less as we age. Increased use of sunscreen will further decrease production of vitamin D. With mounting evidence that vitamin D plays roles in promoting strong bones, healthy blood pressure, fighting infection, and decreasing inflammation and cancer risk, supplementation is frequently warranted.  For more information on why it is hard to actually get enough vitamin D from foods, read on.

Calcium

If you skip the dairy group, there is a good chance you may not be meeting your calcium requirements. Calcium is important for more than our bones-it also protects against colon cancer and high blood pressure. If you opt out of drinking regular milk and eating dairy products, choose soy, rice, or almond milk. Just make sure the brand you choose is fortified with calcium. If you avoid these products altogether, consider a supplement. Consume 1000 mg up to 50 years of age; for 50+ the requirements increase to 1200 mg.

While my preference is always going to be to get nutrients through food, eating less as we age, medication, and lifestyle may impact our nutritional status.

Any one have other supplements they think we should be taking as we get older?

Cereals With Too Much Iron? Pick These Cereals, Not Those Cereals!

Does your breakfast cereal have too much iron?

Do your regularly eat cereals with too much iron? Iron consumption is critical for the health of all-especially women of childbearing age, infants, and children. Iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms from energy draining anemia to disruptive behavior in children. Because adequate dietary iron is so critical to health, many of our foods are fortified with iron to lessen the public health risk of too little iron.

Cereals are probably the most widely iron fortified food in this country. For infants, iron fortified baby cereal is an excellent way for babies to get the iron they need to grow. For older children and adults, a single serving of cereal can provide 100% of the recommendation for iron.

Iron requirements vary based on age and gender

But, what happens if a lot of this highly fortified cereal is eaten by men and older women who have significantly lower iron requirements than younger women and children?  Women of childbearing age need 18 mg of iron, but men and  women in menopause need only 8 mg of iron. While a healthy body can actually exert some control over absorbing too much iron, once in the body, it can be problematic to excrete. If too much iron is absorbed on an ongoing basis, it can cause a range of symptoms from increased infection to organ failure in susceptible individuals. The Iron Disorders Institute has extensive information about iron overload symptoms and treatment.

Cereals with too much iron can be avoided by checking the Nutrition Fact Label

cereals with too much iron

How much iron is in your cereal? How much iron do you need?

If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals-including some of the healthier high fiber whole grain varieties- are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of the recommended 18 mg suitable for younger women. So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day? They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run.

Let’s look at how some popular cereals stack up per serving with regard to the 18 mg iron requirement:

  • Cheerios have 6.3 mg
  • Special K has 6.3 mg
  • Corn Chex has 9 mg
  • Corn Flakes have 9 mg
  • Raisin Bran has 6.3-10.8 mg (depends on the brand)
  • Wheat Chex has 14.4 mg
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 16.2 mg
  • Multi-Bran Chex has 16.2 mg
  • Total has 18 mg

For those who love their cereal, but need less iron, there are some lower iron choices such as:

  • Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
  • Puffins have less than 1 mg
  • Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg
  • Fiber One has 4.5 mg
  • Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
  • Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
  • Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg

Given that many people eat more than the standard  ½-1 cup serving size, there is little doubt that some of you are consuming very large amounts of iron from cereal. Couple large serving sizes of iron fortified cereal with a glass of orange juice, and the iron absorption triples from the vitamin C in that orange juice!

For more thoughts:

The Potential Hidden Danger in Your Cereal: Iron

Should you change your cereal choice based on your iron requirements?