How to Choose Quality Vitamins & Supplements that actually work. Toxic ingredients to avoid, bioavailability, sourcing and purity, and how to choose the most cost effective option.
There are so many supplements on the market - from vitamins and minerals to herbs and other blends. It can be hard to know which is best, and overwhelming given the options! I'm sharing everything you need to know about how to choose quality vitamins & supplements!
As we head into fall and winter, I know many of us are looking for ways to support our immune systems and stay healthy. You may have recently started taking vitamin C or vitamin D again - knowing that these vitamins are great for immune support at this time of year! But are your supplements really working? How do you choose a high quality yet budget friendly supplements? These are very important questions to ask when purchasing any supplement.
Unfortunately, not all supplements are created with the same quality and standards. My eyes were opened to this after working at a health food store and naturopathic dispensary for a few years. There is a huge difference in the quality and effectiveness of supplements you may purchase at the drug store or Costco (I’m looking at you Kirkland brand), vs high-quality whole food supplements that you may find at a health food store. It is important to carefully examine the ingredients list of any supplement you are looking to take. In this post, I will explain why, and give some simple tips and tricks as to how you can choose high-quality vitamins & supplements!
I want to help you choose a quality supplement that will get you results and save $$$ in the long run. I’m passionate about this topic because I’ve seen so many people have amazing and life-changing results with the use of high-quality supplements. I know it’s important to save money and budget, but when it comes to your health don’t skimp!
Toxic Ingredients, Fillers and Dyes
Supplements often contain fillers, dyes, or non-medicinal ingredients that either help the supplement to keep longer (making it shelf-stable), bulking, anti-caking, or flavour. It’s important to check the non-medicinal ingredients because this is where some potentially harmful ingredients often hideout! Look out for BHT, titanium dioxide, talc aka magnesium silicate, hydrogenated oils, colourants, maltodextrin, and other processed sugars.
I can't stress how important this is! You would hope that supplement companies would never put ingredients like these into products that are marketed to support your health. I had a look at the ingredient label on Flintstones kid’s multi-vitamins and I was astonished. These chewable multivitamins contain so much sugar (disguised under multiple names), vitamins that are not bioavailable, as well as harmful food dyes including FD&C red #40, and BHT. Supplements such as this do more harm than good! Gummy multivitamins for kids often have similar toxic ingredients, and vitamins that are not easy for the body to absorb and use. You are essentially flushing $ down the drain, while potentially exposing yourself to harmful carcinogens as well.
Ingredients to Avoid
Bioavailability refers to how much of the vitamin or mineral is available to be absorbed and used by the body. It is the fraction of the supplement that actually makes it through the digestive system and can be used by the body.
Some vitamins and minerals come in different forms - bioactive vs nonbioactive. A few great examples are B vitamins!
The bioactive form of Vitamin B6 is pyridoxal-5’-phosphate (P5P). This is the form that your body can readily use. The nonbioactive form is pyridoxine (or pyridoxine hydrochloride) and multi-vitamin supplements often contain this form. Look for P5P or pyridoxal-5’-phosphate on the supplement label next to B6. This is a great B complex, containing bioactive forms of all the B vitamins!
Vitamin B12 also comes in multiple forms as well. There are three natural forms of B12 that are available as supplements: methylcobalamin (MeCbl), adenosylcobalamin (AdCbl), and hydroxycobalamin (OHCbl). To my knowledge, methylcobalamin is the most easy to find in supplement form. The synthetic version of B12 is called cyanocobalamin (CNCbl), and is not as bioavailable. Even though it is not very bioavailable, it is often used in supplements due to it's low cost and heat stability. So next time you're choosing a multivitamin or B complex, be sure to look for methylcobalamin next to B12 on the label!
Folic Acid vs Folate
Another example is folate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate or 5-MTHF) vs folic acid. Folate is the active form, and folic acid is the non-bioactive form. Always look for Folate or 5-MTHF on multivitamin or B vitamin supplements! This is especially important for prenatal supplements, as folate is an essential vitamin for neural tube development. Knowing this can help you choose supplements that contain the bioactive forms.
Magnesium comes in a few different forms - Magensium Oxide, Magnesium Citrate, Magnesium Glycinate, and Magensium L-Threonate. Each of these can be useful for treating different symptoms. Magensium oxide is often included as a cheap option in multivitamin supplements, and I'd advise to avoid it in most cases. It is poorly absorbed by the digestive tract - but is useful for treating constipation! So magnesium oxide isn't useful for treating magnesium deficiency. Magnesium glycinate (magnesium bound to the amino acid glysine) is more readily bioavailable, and a better choice for treating headaches, migraines, restless legs, muscle cramping or magnesium deficiency.
Vitamin C also comes in both synthetic and whole-food forms, and it is widely debated as to whether there is a benefit over either. As shown by this 2013 study, both seem to be equally bioavailable, however it is still recommended to take a whole food based Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) because the bioflavonoids, macro- and micronutrients and phytochemicals that are found with vitamin C in foods provide additional health benefits. Bioflavonoids are antioxidants that enhance the use of vitamin C, improve its absorption and prolonging its effectiveness. In terms of supplements. look for a vitamin C supplement that contains ascorbic acid PLUS bioflavonoids like this one, or opt for a whole foods based vitamin C such as this one.
Vitamin C can be found in bell peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cilantro and parsley.
Purity, Sourcing, Third Party Testing
An easy way to tell if your supplements are high quality is to look for these labels on the packaging!
- Certified Organic (USDA Organic of Canada Certified Organic)
- B-Corp - Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
- NSF International (NSF does third party testing to verifiy product claims such as non-GMO, organic, Gluten Free, Kosher, Raised without Antibiotics etc).
- Green-e - means the product is made using Renewable Energy (always a bonus in my books)!
I highly recommend purchasing practitioner-grade supplements through a dispensary or visiting your local health food store. Recently, I've found that ordering through Fullscript has been amazing. Not only do they have over 300 practitioner-grade supplements to choose from, but they also conveniently ship to your door. Sign up for a free Fullscript account to access their full catalog, and you can also browse through my favourite supplements once you've set up your account by clicking on "catalog".
Note: this post is not sponsored. However, some of the links displayed are affiliate links, meaning that I will make a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase through these links.
I hope that you found this blog post useful! Feel free to save these images so that next time you're standing in the supplements section pondering all the options, you have a little bit of guidance! Or, share with a friend so that they can also learn How to Choose Quality Vitamins & Supplements! Of course, you can also ask me any questions below, I would love to help answer them or guide you to choosing a healthy and whole foods-based supplement that will actually get you results.
For more healthy tips and daily inspiration, be sure to follow me over on Instagram @nourishmintkitchen! I share healthy eats, tips for balancing your hormones and living an eco-friendly lifestyle.