Secrets to Buying High Quality Supplements
Read the label (of course)
Manufacturers often throw in non-nutritive fillers, colors and binding agents to make their products more attractive, easier to produce or more bulky. Some of the worst offenders are silicone dioxide, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, magnesium silicate, titanium dioxide and magnesium stearate. These range from harmless at low doses to quite toxic if ingested in large quantities. Others, such as vegetable stearate, aren’t harmful in general, but some people are allergic to them.
“You should avoid dyes and sugars in your supplements,” says Mike Tolani, owner of Peach Vitamins in Atlanta, and a nutritionist and ayurvedic counselor. The store’s natural products include its own formulations of supplements and herbs.
“Don’t buy any vitamins with cornstarch or corn syrup. If the ingredient list is long, leave it behind, and if you can’t pronounce it, avoid it,” Tolani adds.
While you’re looking at the label, be sure to check the serving size. “Manufacturers bank on the fact that many people don’t bother to check how many tablets or caplets—sometimes six or more—it takes to fulfill the potency that’s promised on the front of the label.”
Absorb all you can
“It’s not what you take—it’s what you absorb that’s important,” says Greg Lee, general manager of all eight Good Nutrition stores in metropolitan Atlanta. The company, in business for more than 10 years, sells a wide variety of supplements, herbs, allergy-free foods and environmentally-friendly household products.
“Manufacturers often mass produce their supplements by compressing them at high pressure, with high heat and at a high speed,” he explains. That perfect storm of conditions can result in a virtually unabsorbable pellet of product. “Hospitals used to call them ‘bedpan bullets’ because they go right through without breaking down.” Premium supplements, on the other hand, are softer and easier to break down.
Caps or tabs?
Which are better: capsules or tablets?
Capsules break down much more easily in the stomach than hard, compressed tablets do, and they are less likely to have binders and fillers than tablets.
But tablets have their benefits too. Manufacturers can cram more into tablets than capsules, so you might not have to take as many. And while capsules can be absorbed easily, they might break down too quickly. “Tablets start to break down in the stomach and continue to do so as they move through the intestinal tract,” says Lee. “That means the nutrients are finally freed at precisely the right place for optimal absorption.” On the other hand, capsules sometimes explode in the stomach and the nutrients don’t have a chance to get where they need to go to be absorbed as well.
Select the chemical make-up
Spend some time researching the best form of the vitamins you want to take. For example, the most common form of Vitamin C comes from ascorbic acid, whose acidic make-up can cause stomach distress if you take more than 1000mg at a time. But you can get Vitamin C in other forms, such as calcium ascorbate, known as ester-C, which is nonacidic and gentler on the stomach.
Go with plant-based vitamins
As far as the popular multivitamin is concerned, “It’s important to get ones that have plant-based ingredients,” says Mari Geier, nutritionist and owner of Nuts ’n Berries in Atlanta, which carries a wide variety of supplements and other products for a healthy lifestyle.
“The use of plant-based vitamins helps to ensure greater absorption, or ‘bio-availability,’ of the nutrients you want,” she says. “Some of the most well-respected brands use only food-sourced vitamins for that purpose.”
Other brands take synthetic forms of the vitamins and bind them to food, so the body will digest the nutrients and reap the benefit. Either choice is better than the synthetic variety, which will be far less absorbable.