If you’re in the market for a new supplement — whether it be to correct a vitamin deficiency, quell inflammation, or support a healthy mood — there’s a very good chance that you’re overwhelmed by the options.
After all, walking down the supplement aisle or scrolling through dozens of internet search results can give you a pretty serious case of decision paralysis. How do you tell one from another? Are all supplements safe? What should we be looking for?
If you can relate to this, don’t worry. We’ve got your back. At Clean Plates, we know that your health is top on your priority list and we’re here to help you make the most informed decision possible.
With that in mind, here are five things to know before you put that new supplement in your shopping cart.
1. Know that not all supplements are created equal
The first thing to know about supplements is that they are not all created equal. As Dr. Nick Bitz, Chief Science Officer at Youtheory explains: “There’s a great disparity among the products on the shelf and the most expensive products are not always the best.”
It’s also important to consider whether a supplement has a proven track record of improving people’s health, or if it’s just popular at the moment. Supplements don’t require a prescription from a healthcare professional, so it’s up to all of us, the consumers, to make sure we’re taking the right supplements for us. This is a great reason to work with a supplement-savvy healthcare practitioner, like an RD, naturopathic doctor, and integrative or functional medicine doctor, to have them suggest the right supplements, form, and dosage for you.
2. Know how supplements are regulated
You don’t need a prescription to buy a supplement, so does that mean they’re totally unregulated? “Dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA. But supplements are regulated as food, not drugs,” says Bitz. According to him, the main law governing supplement regulation is called the Dietary Supplements and Health Education Act (DSHEA), which says that manufacturers must comply with the FDA’s good manufacturing practices (GMP) standards. That said, many critics think that these standards leave a lot to be desired — and most good supplement companies will go above and beyond them.
Plus, the existence of GMPs doesn’t mean all supplement companies are actually following those guidelines. As Bitz explains: “There will always be a couple of fly-by-night companies that aren’t abiding by the rules, especially online.” But, in general, these companies are more of the exception than the rule. “The great majority of well-established brands will always make products that are safe and efficacious,” he continues.
3. Know how your supplement has been tested
So how can you tell the difference between a great supplement company and one that’s not-so-great? “Generally speaking, the industry does a really good job of testing products for purity and potency,” says Bitz. “But when it comes to identity testing, that’s a whole other issue,” he continues. The term “identity testing” means that the company is testing the products to make sure that the ingredients listed on the label of the supplement are actually inside the bottle.
As Bitz rightly points out: “Consumers need to feel confident that the yellow powder inside their capsules is, in fact, turmeric extract. So the burden is on supplement companies to prove it.” And while this seems like a no-brainer, it’s actually something that many companies are struggling to do. You can see this, for example, in the CBD industry. When the FDA tested products they found that many of them contained less CBD than was listen on the bottle and some didn’t contain any CBD at all. (Yes, really.)
And so, as Bitz says: “While this seems like a fairly basic idea, it’s actually quite complex and challenging. I see this as potentially the biggest quality concern in the industry right now,” explains Bitz.
4. Know if your supplement company is going above and beyond
If you want to make sure that the supplement you’re buying meets your standards, it’s a great idea to look for certifications or seals of approval such as Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic, and Certified B Corp. You can also look for something called USP, which stands for United States Pharmacopeia. This certification “provides comprehensive testing and monitoring of dietary supplements,” says Bitz. In other words, a product with the USP seal has gone through a specific testing and auditing program. “I would say that the USP Mark is one of the best indicators of quality in the industry, and it certainly helps products stand apart from the majority of their competition. But to be clear, not every quality product has or needs USP verification. It’s just the cherry on top,” explains Bitz.
5. Know where the raw materials come from
Buying from the right company can safeguard your health, but it can also help keep other people and the planet safe, too. A great company should be able to answer questions about where their raw materials come from, how they are grown and harvested, and even who is growing them (and whether or not those growers are being paid a fair wage). These are all important pieces of the overall puzzle. “Consumers should demand transparency before giving away their trust,” says Bitz.