What's REALLY In Your Supplements <PT 3: Label Literacy>
PART 3: LABEL LITERACY
Just like when reading food labels, it can take awhile before you start remembering and recognizing ingredients. The more you go through the process of looking them up, the better it will stick in your brain for the the future.
<I still look up ingredients!>
To start, always focus on what is on the BACK of the bottle (ingredients/quantities) instead of the health claims they boast on the front. Let's go over a couple of the MOST important aspects to assess whether or not we're getting that grade-A quality material:
First things first, we gotta make sure that your body is actually picking up what you're puttin' down.
BIOAVAILABLE: the amount of the nutrient that is actually digested, absorbed AND metabolized
You know that saying..'YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT'?
Well, in reality we should be saying... you are what you absorb!
Remember in Part I I mentioned that it's best to get your nutrients from organic, whole food?
This is because most organic, non-gmo, whole foods (aka fruits/veg/meat/stuff that actually exists in nature) have nutrients packed in a way that our bodies know how to digest and use. When foods and vitamins are made in a lab, our body doesn't always recognize these molecules in quite the same way and it can either go undigested or take longer to break down.
<cue the bloat, brain-fog, inflammation, migraines, etc>
You ever hear someone refer to supplements as "expensive pee"? Well, when you consume the cheap, non-bioavailable form, that is exactly what you'll have because your body isn't breaking it down and using it the way you think it is.
Let's take Vitamin D for example.
There are 2 main forms that we see in supplements:
Vit D2 (ergocalciferol) -or- Vit D3 (cholecalciferol)
Vitamin D2 is cheaper to manufacture so it is often found in cheap supplements and fortified foods (cereal, milk, crackers, processed foods). The problem however is that our bodies convert D2 much less effectively than D3 <D3 absorbs better>. In addition, D2 tends to spoil faster when exposed to light or temperature fluctuations (take note -- we'll talk more about this later).
Let's take a look how it may appear on a label.
Sometimes it has the number listed and other times it's just the name so it's important to know both.
You'll need to research any vitamin you're about to purchase. You can google "most bioavailable form of _____" to get a general idea. Sometimes you have to dig through the trenches to find what you're looking for but it's better to have an idea than going in blind.
Here are some more examples of what to look for with other popular vitamins/minerals:
So now that you know that you gotta look at the FORM of each vitamin (found on the 'grid' portion of the label, we are gonna move down south (or sometimes east) to check out the 'Others'.
2. fillers and other killers
Okay, maybe a little dramatic. You probs won't die.
But, if every day you're taking small doses of something that isn't easily absorbed or causes internal irritation/inflammation, you may start to experience:
gut irritation/discomfort (bloat, reflux, constipation, diarrhea)
auto-immune flare ups
Some times it takes time for the inflammation to build up before you notice any side effects AND if you decide to stop taking something, it can also take some time for your body to detox and relieve that inflammation.
FUN FACT: For those who are gluten intolerant or celiac, the antibodies that are produced in response to gluten can linger for up to 5-6 months after it's last ingested
Gluten is a prime example of an ingredient that goes unnoticed or is hidden in foods and supplements. It's also an ingredient that people are becoming more aware of and recognize it's inflammatory effects.
So if you're trying to avoid gluten <especially if you're celiac or super sensitive> this is something you definitely need to be aware of. It's important to check your supps for all the sneaky names gluten may be called on the label.
Why is this important?
Just like with foods, it can take some time to figure out what is causing your symptoms and sensitivities especially if they are mild. This is why we want to be crystal clear about:
A) what exactly is in our supplements
B) minimizing our exposure to inflammatory substances on a daily basis
We are taking supplements to improve our health so it's important we choose high-quality ones that are going to do that without any consequences.
So, where do we find these fillers + other foes?
They'll be listed as "Other" or "Non-Active Ingredients" and can usually be found underneath the 'grid' of nutrition facts or just to the right of it. If it doesn't list anything, flag this in your mind and do more research. Brands SHOULD be transparent about the ingredients they're using, otherwise it should make you wonder what they are trying to hide.
Just to clarify before we begin --- it can be challenging to find products that don't contain any fillers or preservatives of any kind. In order to create a product that is shelf-stable and/or that can make it through your digestive system, sometimes, those main ingredients need a little help.
Even the "good brands" generally have 1-2 non-active ingredients that make up the capsule of the pill. So before you get overwhelmed by scrolling through the extensive list of no-no's to watch out for below, I want you to focus on the following general rules-of-thumb:
#1: YOU BETTA RECOGNIZE
If it sounds like it was made in a lab, we are gonna flag it and look it up on the google machine. If it sounds like you'd find it in your kitchen (olive oil gel capsule, organic vegetable capsule, medium-chain triglycerides, baking soda, etc) then it's *probably* okay.
#2: LESS IS MORE
Look for products with less than 4 ingredients in the "other" or "non-active" section. Ideally, we want them to be recognizable, otherwise you gotta research them. If you see the 'other/non-active' ingredient list a mile long (or even more than 5), run a mile in the other direction.
Trust me, label reading WILL get easier the more you look things up. You'll begin to recognize and remember what is okay and what is not. So without further ado... let's take note of some not-so-ideal ingredients we want to watch out for....
I've included some examples for you to practice and start recognizing how ingredients may appear on the labels. See how many you can spot!
Some of the ingredients below are really hard to avoid (magnesium stearate, citric acid, titanium dioxide for example). They're in a lot of well-respected brands products unfortunately and if there's only 1-2 offenders like the ones above, I will sometimes look the other way.
However, for many of the other's (corn, soy, artificial flavors/colors/sugars), they are an absolute NO. Unless it lists it is organic or non-GMO -- in which case I may let it slide.
**I'll star all of my absolute NO's **
A. FILLERS AND BULKING AGENTS:
These do exactly what they sound like... make the tablet or capsule look like it has more stuff in it. It can make you think you're getting more of the active ingredient than the product actually contains.
Here are some common ones:
Magnesium Stearate: The problem here is with the stearate or stearic acid (not the Mg itself) which this study suggests reduces T-cell function
Stearic Acid: Same as above
Corn starch**: Unless specifically stated, all corn/corn products are GMO in the US. I personally avoid all corn if possible (on a rare occasion I will have organic popcorn)
Maltodextrin**: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
Cellulose powder: Usually made from wood pulp
Soybean oil**: Usually partially hydrogenated (very inflammatory) and also GMO unless otherwise stated
Citric acid: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
Let's take a look at this... this Multivitamin for Women is full of so much junk IDK where to begin:
Crappy Vitamin Forms: calcium carbonate, magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, folic acid
Artificial Colors: E171, E120, E133
Sugar: Maltodextrin, Sucrose, Glucose Syrup
Other: Bulking/Caking agents (that have numbers not even names), Mod Starch
These help the ingredients stick together like eggs in a cake recipe.
Polyethylene glycol**: Petroleum-based, made from ethylene glycol (aka antifreeze)
Modified food starch**: GMO corn based (almost always)
Here we see:
Modified food starch
These help with consistency and combining fats with water.
Soy lecithin: Anything made with soy is GMO unless otherwise specified. I avoid soy like I avoid corn, very rarely do I have it and only if organic.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO): bromine affects iodine levels, potentially leading to/exacerbating hypothyroidism.
Ammonium phosphatides: Made using rapeseed oil, which is not a food and is GMO
Give the ingredients a longer shelf life.
Sodium benzoate: It's byproduct is benzene, a known carcinogen.
Sulfites: These can trigger asthmatic reactions and migraines.
Nitrates or nitrites**: Form carcinogenic (cancer-causing) nitrosamines.
Ascorbic acid: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
Sodium ascorbate: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
Ascorbyl palmitate: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
Sodium citrate: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
Citric acid: GMO corn based (unless otherwise stated)
E. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS:
Sugar, in any form, has a detrimental effect on your gut, immune system and pancreas. Stevia, honey, or monkfruit are acceptable but most others should be avoided, especially the artificial ones which are known to have damaging side effects. The ones listed below should ALWAYS be avoided in anything you consume.
Preworkout powders are notorious for being filled with junk:
Sugars: Dextrose, Xylitol, Sucralose AND Acesulfame-k
These two sweeteners are less offensive but also not ideal:
Sucrose: Table Sugar (GMO), also used as a binder.
Sorbitol or Xylitol: Sugar alcohols - not horrible but can cause GI irritation esp if you're sensitive to FODMAPs. Also used as a binder.
We really do not need or want more sugar in our diets,
ESPECIALLY in something we are taking medicinally.
F. Artificial Colors + Flavors
Just like in food, these are added to make the product look and taste more appealing. But why we care the color of a supplement.. that is beyond me.
Artificial colors**: may appear as Blue 1, Green 3, Blue 2, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 6 and Yellow 6, etc. These have been directly linked to obesity and ADHD.
Artificial flavors**: will usually be listed as "artificial flavors". This is an umbrella term that includes a number of different ingredients that the manufacturer is not required to disclose. They're known to have a multitude of reactions including: Allergic reactions, chest pain, DNA damage, fatigue, headaches, depression of the nervous system, brain damage, seizures, nausea, dizziness, and more.
Note all the sources of:
sugar: sucrose, invert sugar, aspartame
colors: Red #40 , FDC Yellow #6, Blue #2
These are not candy nor should they need to taste like them.
You doing your child more harm than good by giving them these types of vitamins that are laden with sugars and all the other crap inside of it.
It's glorified candy and I am not here for it.
If this all seems overwhelming:
-Start with professional quality supplements or get rec's from your health professional
-Choose products with minimal # of ingredients in the 'other'/'non-active' category
and for the love of dogs PLEASE DON'T BUY FROM AMAZON!
(stay tuned for the next blog)