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?

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Dangerous Supplements: How to Keep Yours Safe

dangerous supplements

Updated November, 2019

Many Americans naively pop vitamin and mineral supplements and guzzle various types of protein powders, thinking they are helping their health. The reality is that many of these supplements are actually dangerous. In fact, according to a recent newspaper headliner, the 28 billion dollar supplement industry has serious and widespread manufacturing flaws. These flaws are extensive enough to have the potential to harm health. From quality control to formulation issues, the product you’re taking may not be what you think 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 supplements. So, being a savvy consumer can indeed protect you from dangerous supplements.

 The supplement industry is a self-regulating industry. That means the government does not directly oversee the quality control of a supplement. 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 problem with the supplement. In fact, the FDA relies on manufacturers themselves, as well as consumers, to report any adverse effects.

Steps to avoid dangerous 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

usp label assuring supplement safety

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. With this symbol present, you at least know that product has what it’s advertising, and the product will dissolve in your digestive tract.

Look at the Nutrition Fact Label

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. And, you should be getting a lot of these nutrients from your diet!

Research to avoid dangerous supplements

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.

Have a dietitian evaluate your diet

A dietitian can evaluate nutrient shortcomings and make appropriate recommendations to meet those dietary deficits with the correct supplements. 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? Hoping this blog post helped you do so.

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