How to Spot a "Garbage" Supplement

It’s not uncommon to stand at a store and see an entire wall of supplements that all serve a different purpose, it’s kind of overwhelming. Which supplements are the best?  Which ones are garbage? Which ones appear to be great, but only to find out they are junk? Spotting garbage supplements is actually quite easy, you just have to know what to look for.

Garbage supplements will have the following ingredients:  

Synthetic Vitamin Forms

For example, you may look at the supplement facts and see the following:

  • Vitamin B6 (as pyridoxine hydrochloride)

  • Folic acid instead of Folate

  • Vitamin B-12 (as cynocobalamin)

Are synthetic vitamins bad for you? writes:

The problem is that many vitamin and mineral supplements are manufactured synthetically with chemicals and do not come straight from their natural sources. They are made to mimic the way natural vitamins act in our bodies. Natural vitamins are derived directly from plant material containing the vitamin, not produced in a test tube.

Many synthetic vitamins lack the transporters and co-factors associated with naturally occurring vitamins because they have been “isolated.” The Organic Consumers Association emphasizes that isolated vitamins cannot be used or recognized by the body in the same way as the natural version.

Isolated vitamins can’t always be used by the body, and are either stored until you obtain or create the nutrients required to use them effectively or are excreted. Synthetic vitamins are also devoid of necessary trace minerals and must use the body’s own mineral reserves which may lead to dangerous mineral deficiencies.

More than 95% of all the vitamin supplements sold today fall in to the synthetic category.

Non-chelates mineral forms

For example, you may look at the supplement facts and see the following:

  • Calcium (as calcium carbonate & calcium ascorbate)

  • Iodine (as potassium iodide)

  • Magnesium (as oxide)

  • Zinc (as zinc oxide)

Chelates are minerals that use amino acid chains for faster absorption. Since the body is efficient at absorbing amino acids, it makes sense to utilize the amino acid chains in order to maximize absorption of the minerals.    

Unnecessary binders, fillers, coatings, preservatives, or excipients

When you examine the nutrition facts of your supplements, you may see things like: Magnesium stearate, which decreases nutrient absorption, Polyethylene glycol, which is a strong laxative, and lactose, which causes digestive issues.

Addition of synthetic colors

Another thing to be wary of when examining your supplements is to monitor the use of synthetic coloring within the supplement. Look for things like FD&C and Brilliant Blue to be listed on the bottle. explains:

FD&C Color Pigments are synthetically produced colors found in many cleansing and beauty products, as well as foods. They are made from coal tar, which contain toxic heavy metal salts. FD&C is an abbreviation for the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which was passed to regulate potentially harmful ingredients in products sold within the U.S. While the standards weed out some highly toxic ingredients, many color pigments are still permitted within the law. Although legal, FD&C color pigments can still be harmful to the skin and body. The European Union recently passed guidelines requiring warnings on packaging of foods that contain certain food dyes. The U.S. does not have these stringent practices in place at this time.

Artificial sweeteners

When you look at the ingredients of your supplements, you may see ingredients such as Aspartame, Sucralose, and Ace-k.

In my article, Could Artificial Sugars Be Healthier Than Table Sugar?, I explain how artificial sugars have had similar or even worse effects on your blood sugar when compared to table sugar.   

What Can You Do?

Since you are investing in organic foods, make sure you are not undermining your health by consuming “garbage” supplements.   Read the labels on your supplements. Avoid synthetic vitamins (Pyrioxine hydrochloride), non-Chelated mineral forms (oxides, carbonates, or mineral salts), unnecessary binders (lactose), synthetic colors (FD&C), or any artificial sweeteners.   If you do notice your supplements have these ingredients, stop using them. You are definitely not getting the product you thought you were getting.

Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

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