Nutrition Masterclass: Buyers Guide
Not all health supplements work the same way, there are different methods of treatment by which nutrients can be used to affect your health. The first step is knowing which type of treatment you're looking for.
For some pointers on the best way to go about this, please check out our expert advice article, but essentially you can divide all the various supplements that are available into these 3 categories:
What they are: Either single or multi-nutrient formulas designed to treat or avoid deficiency by supplementing your normal dietary intake.
How to spot them: Single or multi-ingredient products featuring EFSA-approved claims such as vitamins, multivitamins, omega oils & minerals.
Who they are for: Very few diets are perfectly balanced, hence a variety of people can benefit from fortifying their diet. Older adults, those with busy lifestyles & people with digestive or auto-immune conditions are most likely to require extra support.
Advantages: Safe & well researched - these supplements can offer effective long-term health solutions.
Disadvantages: Can vary in quality and only are highly effective against symptoms of nutrient deficiency.
Recommendations: If your doctor recommends a supplement to you, or if you have a poor diet and just want to fill in the gaps, then this is the type of supplement you need. Only exceed recommended dosages if professionally advised to do so, and look for formulations with greater bioavailability.
What are they: Natural powders, oils, substances, and compounds used traditionally to provide specific health benefits or treat certain symptoms.
How to spot them: Products that sound like parts of a plant, animal, organism, or foodstuff e.g. maca root, garlic oil, hemp seed, cod liver oil, etc.
Who are they for: Some people simply prefer to get their extra nutrition from natural herbs, spices, and superfoods, but mostly these remedies are used to treat particular conditions such as turmeric for inflammation, ashwagandha for stress/insomnia, maca root for loss of libido, fenugreek for lactation, etc.
Advantages: Can be highly effective solutions, sometimes outperforming pharmaceuticals.
Disadvantages: Insufficient large-scale research means results can be hard to predict.
Recommendations: If you are looking to gain from the renown natural healing effects of a particular substance, then we'd advise looking look for clean organic products, full-spectrum extracts, and cold-pressed natural oils. Unfortunately, with limited research to draw upon, trial & error is often the only available strategy.
Definition: Scientifically-formulated supplements that combine or transform nutrients to provide supernatural benefits.
How to spot them: Complex formulas, high-strength extracts & other fortified natural products such as probiotics, amino acids, fortified oils, etc.
Who they are for: Anyone looking for the ultimate supplement solution to their problem, or for whom pharmaceuticals and/or natural remedies have proven either unavailable, undesirable, or ineffective. Well-formulated nutraceuticals make use of the very latest health innovations and discoveries.
Advantages: A good nutraceutical supplement can provide life-changing health benefits.
Disadvantages: Separating the good products from the bad ones can be tough.
Recommendations: You don't need expertise in chemistry & nutrition to identify the best nutraceutical formula, you just need to identify the best experts. With this type of treatment, you are putting your health in the hands of whoever formulated the product, so we'd advise doing as much research as possible.
Navigating The Market
Once you've identified whether it's a nutrient, remedy, or nutraceutical you want to try, it's a case of choosing the best manufacturer to buy it from. The hurdle to making a good decision is talented marketing men and women. Their job is to make you believe their products are the best, and they can be very convincing.
The quickest way to get to the truth is by comparing as many products as possible to gain a better understanding of the most important factors in judging the product's quality. If you've done your research then spotting the bad eggs should be easy, although there are always differences of opinion.
For example,, we believe (in accordance with these studies) that, despite being an excellent combination that undoubtedly works together to boost each other's benefits; Vitamin D3 & Vitamin K2 should be taken separately because they are both fat-soluble, hence will inhibit each other's absorption if taken at the same time. Some big players in this market obviously disagree because they put these nutrients together in the same capsules. Which opinion you agree with, is down to you - all we can do is try to explain our reasoning as best we can.
We also believe that whilst it requires more effort, shopping online is a far better way of finding higher-quality supplements in general, and if you choose wisely you'll end up paying less for better-quality supplements. Also, many high-street stores (naming no names) stock supplements made by various manufacturers, often in different countries, which means they cannot guarantee their quality.
We're a bit biased of course, but don't just take our word for it: if you take the time to compare ingredients and prices you'll see what we're getting at. The main problem with online shopping, however, is the same fierce competition that drives prices down and quality up.
Industry Insider Hints & Tips
In a competitive market, some manufacturers will always try to mislead buyers which can make it difficult to know what to believe. To help you navigate these murky waters, we've put our heads together to come up with 10 hot tips for how to pick out the most genuine suppliers and spend your money most wisely.
1. Do your sums. When it comes to finding the best value for money, you need to look beyond the sales headlines describing the strength and number of capsules. To accurately compare; consider the serving size, how strong the supplement is, and the number of servings provided per bottle/pouch.
2. Bioavailability is a key area when it comes to health supplements being effective. Adding high levels of a particular nutrient into your diet does not necessarily mean you will absorb it. We'd advise checking the ingredients to see what form of the nutrient is used, then research online to see if it is any good.
3. Magnesium stearate has a bad reputation as a 'nasty' ingredient that should be avoided, whereas it's a fairly neutral substance that improves production efficiency and is very unlikely to do you any harm whatsoever. Of course, pure supplements are preferable, but sometimes it's simply not viable or cost-efficient to avoid using magnesium stearate.
4. Vegan, vegetarian & pescatarian customers should be mindful that the vast majority of soft gel capsules contain animal gelatin because vegetable-based soft gels are far more expensive. If your priority is to keep costs down, you may be better off going for a powder capsule or tablet alternative instead.
5. Isolated extracts, such as curcumin, can be very effective. However, there is rarely strong research confirming that the extracted chemical is the sole active ingredient in the original natural substance. They can also be harder to absorb and carry a greater risk of digestive side effects.
6. Customer reviews, particularly those posted by knowledgeable users, can provide good affirmation, but don't assume that a large number of reviews means you're on safe ground, sometimes it just means a supplement has been around longer. Look for Feefo or Trustpilot links to guarantee the validity of reviews.
7. Sparsely populated product pages, overly flashy packaging on products with big price tags, pointlessly exotic ingredients from faraway places, and 'proprietary blends' (which are just a way of not listing the actual ingredients used) are big red flags. Good manufacturers tend not to employ these tactics.
8. Comparison pages claiming to have rated the 'top 10' or 'best supplements' of a particular type are almost always fake. They often appear very high in search results, but these impartial pages are often no more than a trick to try and make you buy the supplement listed as #1.
9. Accreditations such as third-party testing results, GMP standard certificates, and soil association approval are good indications that you are dealing with a responsible supplier. You should still examine their formulations and ingredient quality with a critical eye, but it's a good sign your dealing with professionals.
10. Check out their site. Wherever you're shopping, it's worth visiting the supplier's website to get a feel for their ethos and values. Not only that but if you're willing to show commitment with a bundle or subscription purchase, then you'll often be rewarded with significant discounts too. If you can't find a website or do not see any customer services to enquire with, it's probably not a good sign.
The Next Steps
Now you're ready to go online to find the perfect supplements for you, pick out the best quality suppliers, and get the best deals. However, even if you're stocked with all the best supplements, understanding the lesser-known science behind health nutrition offers plenty of opportunities to boost the benefits gained, and avoid any potential pitfalls.
Look out for our next installment in this series; Nutrient Know-how (due mid-August) where we'll take you to the next level with professional advice on dosages, timings, and advanced techniques to help you get more out of your supplements.