The Supplement NO List
How To Identify High-Quality Supplements And Get The Most Out Of Your Purchase!August 30th, 2012
By Brian Rigby, Clinical Nutrition Writer
If you've ever looked at the ingredients label of a supplement you picked up from the local drugstore, you know how long and confusing it can be! It can seem as though there is no point in even trying to decipher it because there is simply too much on it. Yet looking at the label is incredibly important when it comes to determining whether a supplement will be effective or not!
A supplements label doesn't need to be confusing, but most supplement companies have no interest in making the information it contains readily accessible to the average consumer. In fact, it is in their best interest profit-wise for the consumer to not understand what purpose many of the ingredients serve.
On the other hand, a reputable company will always do what it can to make the label clear and meaningful. Even more so, a reputable manufacturer will never use ingredients which may harm the consumer or reduce the efficacy of the supplement they are providing. Their profits are not made by shortchanging the consumer, but rather by building a trustworthy and effective product.
The Supplement NO List
The Supplement NO list was created to give you a place to start when determining whether a supplement will be worth its cost or not. The following ingredients, sorted into categories based upon function, creates a simple solution to the haze of ingredients. In addition, the rationale for how these ingredients made it onto the NO list is explained.
NO fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose crystals
NO artificial sweeteners (ie, acesulfame K, aspartame, sucralose)
Sweeteners most often make their way into protein powders and other sport-oriented supplements. They are used because they can make an otherwise unpalatable product taste sweet. Beyond disguising the off-flavor of an inferior product, these ingredients can also be less-than-healthful in their own right.
Fructose and high-fructose corn syrup are commonly used because, gram per gram, they taste sweeter than glucose or sucrose (a 50:50 mixture of fructose and glucose). In addition, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup have the benefit of not "hydrolyzing" in acidic conditions like sucrose does, which means that the product retains more of its sweetness over a longer period of time, increasing shelf-stability.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the use of fructose in a product, the fact is that our body metabolizes it differently than glucose. Most fructose will never leave the liver, and when consumed in the excess amounts usually found in these supplements it can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Artificial sweeteners, while not contributing directly to calorie intake or diseases like NAFLD, are also not without their problems. Consumption of artificial sweeteners has been tied more often to weight gain than weight loss, and long-term consumption of artificial sweeteners may even reduce your sense of 'reward' from eating, causing increased calorie intake.
Related PEERtrainer Article: A Complete Guide To Artificial Sweeteners
A better option is to find either an unsweetened product or one lightly sweetened with stevia. Stevia will not mask the bitter flavors of a poorly made product, so the companies manufacturing them have more incentive to create a high-quality product.
Avoid Binders and Thickeners
NO xanthan gum
NO sodium alginate
NO tapioca dextrin
In supplements, binders (such as the ones above) allow the ingredients to stick together and eventually be formed into a tablet. They are added primarily to drop the cost of manufacturing for a company by enabling tablets to be formed instead of the much more easily digestible and absorbable capsules. Some of the binders, such as carrageenan, can also cause reactions in susceptible people.
Overall, however, the best reason to avoid these ingredients is that they are a sign that the company producing your supplement is not producing it for you, the consumer, but rather for their own profit. If they take a shortcut in one area, it is an indicator that they will be willing to shortcut in others, with the end result being an inferior supplement you may not even absorb the nutrients from!
Avoid Flow Agents
NO stearates (ie, magnesium stearate, vegetable stearates)
NO palmitic acid
NO hydrogenated oils
NO pharmaceutical glaze
NO hydrogenated soybean oil encapsulate
NO croscarmellose sodium
NO sodium starch glycolate
Similar to the binders, flow agents are added to supplements solely to increase the production value. Specifically, they help lubricate the mixture and ensure it flows easily through the machine, a problem encountered with tablet-style supplements.
A side effect of some of the flow agents, most notably the stearates, is that they make the pill less solvent and increase the amount of time it takes to fully dissolve. If the amount of time it takes the pill to fully dissolve is longer than the time it takes to transit through your digestive tract, then you will not gain all of the nutrients within!
There is no reason to purchase a supplement which will not dissolve and release its nutrients, and purchasing a product like this is essentially throwing money away. "Saving money" on a low-quality supplement may in fact have the exact opposite effect--cause you to waste money on a product which gives you nothing in return!
A reputable manufacturer will not place their profits over the efficacy of its products, and utilizes solutions which ensure the nutrients in their supplements are available to you (such as using capsules instead of tablets).
Avoid Artificial Ingredients
NO artificial colors or dyes (e.g., FD&C yellow no. 6 aluminum lake)
NO artificial preservatives (e.g., BHT, sodium benzoate)
Artificial colorings serve no purpose beyond changing the appearance of a supplement, and despite FDA regulation some of them may still carry the risk of toxicity. As an example from outside the supplement industry, the caramel coloring used in many colas, 4-methylimidazole, was determined to still carry the risk of toxicity in the amounts commonly used in soft drinks, despite being an FDA-approved coloring.
Artificial preservatives are likewise unnecessary in a high-quality supplement, and some have reported sensitivities (such as to sodium benzoate and sulfites) which may cause reactions in those susceptible. If a manufacturer uses good production techniques and ingredients, the necessity for artificial preservatives is eliminated.
The bottom line is that these ingredients serve no purpose beyond changing the appearance (a curious desire for a pill outside the pharmaceutical industry where color is used as an indicator) or elongating shelf-stability for a low-quality supplement.
Avoid Ingredients With High Rates Of Sensitivity
NO gluten or wheat
NO soy (unless otherwise specifically stated -- soy isoflavones, phosphatidylcholine from soy, etc.)
NO peanut-based ingredients
NO lactose or any dairy-based ingredients (with the exception of whey in whey-based protein powder formulas)
All of the above ingredients have a higher than normal incidence rate of sensitivities or allergies, and except for the exceptions listed, serve no purpose in a supplement that could not be achieved with an ingredient which causes less reactions. Most of them have no place in supplements at all, yet make their way onto the labels!
If your supplement contains any of these ingredients, you should seriously question why. High-quality supplement manufacturers take the time to search out alternatives for the above ingredients, or simply don't include them in the first place.
Avoid Certain Sterilization Techniques
NO ethylene oxide sterilization (EtO)
While supplements themselves are not allowed to be sterilized by either of the above means, some ingredients found in certain supplements may be eligible, including herbs and other botanicals.
Ethylene oxide sterilization is controlled to very small amounts for food products, but due to differences in the way we label ingredients, herbs for use in supplements do not qualify to be limited with the same low amounts (and may be exposed to a higher, more toxic level).
Labeling is not always clear and consistent for irradiation, and ethylene oxide sterilization does not need to be noted at all in the US. Your best bet to avoid these two methods of sterilization is purchasing your botanicals and herb-containing supplements from a manufacturer you know to be reputable!
Other Ingredients To Avoid
NO synthetic racemic mixtures such as DL-alpha-tocopherol
Some vitamins and other nutrients, when synthetically created, naturally divide into two forms: a D (or dextro, 'right') and an L (or levo, 'left') form. They are like your hands--mirror images of each other, alike but opposite. The problem is that these two forms, while similar in appearance, can have dramatically different effects.
Take, for example a terpenoid compound called "carvone", which can also conform to the D and L formations. With this compound, the L formation smells like spearmint and the D formation smells like caraway seed, two completely different scents! For alpha-tocopherol (the form of vitamin E we measure to account for IU), the difference is not so benign.
For vitamin E, the L formation is much less bioactive than the D formation, meaning that when a vitamin contains a mixture of both, as in DL-alpha-tocopherol, the potency of that vitamin is severely reduced. In fact, DL-alpha-tocopherol is usually only 74% as potent as pure D-alpha-tocopherol, and little is known of the side effects of the unnatural L formation.
Choosing a supplement which only includes bioactive forms of vitamins and minerals ensures that you are getting as close to 100% utilization as possible. Substituting ingredients with inferior bioactivity is again a simple waste of money, and you should never pay for a supplement you may only be able to absorb a portion of.
By gauging your supplements against the NO list, you'll be able to form a pretty clear picture of how much a company values you as a consumer. Profit is not an undesirable trait, and companies should be able to make money off of the products it sells, but when profit becomes the #1 motivator and products take the wayside, you should beware.
High-quality supplements can be expensive, but with a reputable company this expense is a casualty of the cost of high-quality ingredients and safe manufacturing processes. If you think a high-quality supplement is expensive, though, consider the alternative--purchasing a pill which may do little or nothing, a pill which is difficult for your body to dissolve in the first place and which contains nutrients your body does not utilize well or at all!
If you needed to fill the gas tank of your car, you wouldn't consider pumping it full of lemonade just because a gallon of lemonade is cheaper than a gallon of gasoline. Your car is not equipped with the appropriate machinery to run off lemonade, and our body is not equipped with the appropriate 'machinery' to digest and absorb certain ingredients commonly used in low-quality supplements.
It is better to take a high-quality supplement less often than it is to take a low-quality supplement everyday! And in the end, your body will thank you for it!
PEERtrainer Note: We have been asked if the supplements that are part of our Fresh Start Cleanse and PEERtrainer Shop meet this criteria. The answer is yes. We'd also encourage people to download a copy of the free PEERtrainer Cheat System, which helps people transition to a healthier diet in a foolproof, "can't fail way." If you click the box below you can get your copy!!
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