How to Tell If a Vitamin Supplement is Good or Bad:

A Vitamin Shopping Guide

We get it: looking down the supplement aisle or doing a google search can get overwhelming.

 

You want to improve your health by making sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals, but how do you pick the best supplement brand? How can you tell if a supplement is all natural? How is a vitamin made? What about the processing methods?

Many brands claim to be the best, but we want to arm you with the knowledge you need to read supplement labels correctly, so you can quickly and easily tell if your supplement brand is 100% natural.

After all, why would you treat a nutritional deficiency with anything other than food?

whole food vitamins, organic supplements

Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to get nutrition from only whole foods. Nature always packages vitamins in groups, not isolates, and also includes the other supporting compounds to help your body properly absorb and metabolize them efficiently, like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, phytonutrients, and enzymes.

Taking an isolated vitamin and expecting your body to use it properly is like trying to call someone on the phone when you only have half of their phone number. The message is being sent but it probably won’t be received. What we mean by this is comparing a Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) tablet to an orange. You get much more from that orange than you would in a tablet. Plus, your body isn’t used to digesting ascorbic acid on it’s own! It’s familiar with pulling vitamins and minerals from the orange, not the man made pill.

Here are the quick ways to tell if your vitamin is synthetic

Look at the ingredient list

 

Specifically, is there even an ingredient list? Does it list the source of the nutrient? If not, it’s likely synthetic. If solely the vitamin names themselves are listed on the bottle, and not food ingredients, the nutrients are probably not natural.1

Look for “dl” listed before a nutrient name

 

This can appear as “dl-alpha tocopherol”, “dl-alpha tocopherol acetate” on labels, which is synthetic Vitamin E.1

Look for words that end in “ide” or “ate”1

 

This means that the forms of vitamins in the product are salt forms, which is a synthetic added to the product to increase the stability of the nutrient. Examples of these words are:

  • Acetate
  • Bitartrate
  • Chloride
  • Succinate
  • Gluconate
  • Hydrochloride
  • Nitrate

 

So, for example, Synthetic Vitamin A could appear on a label as “Palmitate”, and Vitamin B6 could appear as “Pyridoxine Hydrochloride”.

Look for the ingredient “saccharomyces cerevisiae”

 

This ingredient, also known as Nutritional Yeast, means that a yeast was added, and that synthetic vitamins and minerals were fed to the yeast during fermentation. Read more about nutritional yeast and how it is made.

B12 is not naturally found in nutritional yeast, synthetic B12 is added in. Only bacteria can grow vitamin B12, which can be absorbed by yeast in nature. So, because nutritional yeast is produced in a monitored, controlled setting, this bacterial interaction will not occur, unless synthetic B12 is added6

Some companies will add synthetically derived vitamins and minerals to yeast while it’s growing, and claim the vitamin’s are from a whole food source. This is not the case. If the ingredient says ‘saccharomyces cerevisiae’ you know it’s not entirely from a whole food source.

Look for the phrases “fortified with” and “{Nutrient name} as __________”

 

If something is fortified, a synthetic nutrient has been added into the product. Food ingredients such as cereals, breads, and even milks (dairy AND non-dairy) can be fortified.

Additionally, on a supplement label, if a nutrient is listed as: “Vitamin C (as ascorbic acid)” or “Vitamin E (as dl-alpha tocopherol)”, the nutrient is not derived from a natural source.

Look for common fillers and additive ingredients

 

In addition to isolated, synthetic nutrients, there are some other ingredients you may want to avoid in pills, tablets, or capsules:

  • Magnesium stearate, or stearic acid2, which is a flow agent used when making pills, which may decrease immune function as stearic acid has been linked to suppression of T cells. The filler also stimulates your gut to form a biofilm, which can prevent proper absorption of nutrients in your digestive tract
  • Carnauba Wax, which is also used in car wax and shoe polish
  • Titanium Dioxide, which is a carcinogen3
Organic supplements, organic vitamins, natural vitamins

Look for the Organic Certification Symbol

A product must be at least 95% organic food ingredients to bear the organic certification symbol. If you don’t see this on your vitamin brand’s label, guess what? There’s either no foods in the product, or they are made using conventional produce, which means you could be exposing yourself to GMOs and potentially harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

Additionally, foods that have NOT been labeled USDA organic, despite their growing conditions, must be irradiated if they are coming from the United States of America.4 What is food irradiation? It is the application of ionizing radiation to food that aims to reduce or entirely remove microorganisms and insects.4  The FDA has deemed this as a safe process that does not affect the nutritional content of the food, but scientific studies suggest otherwise.5

Even if you’re getting food or nutritional supplements from Europe, Australia, Asia or Africa, if they stop in the US before coming into your country of residence, they will likely still go through an irradiation process if they do not have USDA organic certification.

Learn more about why organic supplements work