Do you feel overwhelmed when buying supplements? Here are five red flags to look out for and avoid when it comes to vitamins and other health products.
The world of supplements is very big and sometimes confusing. Gone are the days of buying a 50-pack of multivitamins to tick off all of your nutritional and health needs. Now, there are countless niche and specific supplements you can take to boost everything from your gut health, energy levels and your immunity.
There are lots of things to take into account when it comes to figuring out which supplements you actually need. But even after you’ve decided that you want to supplement with iron to help with tiredness levels, for example, there are hundreds if not thousands of different products you can choose from. With so much choice, how do we go about finding supplements that are safe and effective for our bodies?
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It’s a good idea to only buy supplements from brands you trust and research new brands before you try them. But there are also a few things you should look to avoid when it comes to buying supplements. This is something a nutritionist (who uses the username @kailinschoice) pointed out on TikTok recently: “I work in the supplement industry and I see a lot of companies make up terms to sound legit so you pay more, but those terms actually have no meaning,” she says, explaining a number of phrases to look out for when buying supplements in the US.
But there are many things that might be considered supplement red flags when it comes to health products you can buy in the UK too. So you know what to avoid when trying new supplements, we asked Sophie Medlin, registered dietitian at City Dietitians, to share five supplement red flags to steer clear of.
Bulking agents and fillers
Medlin recommends avoiding supplements where one of the first ingredients listed are bulking agents or fillers. “Often vitamin companies put hardly any active ingredients (nutrients) in their products and they are mostly bulking agents that are put in to take up space in the pill or capsule,” she explains.
Common bulking agents include talcum powder and cellulose, so look for these as red flags in supplement ingredients lists. According to Medlin: “It’s not necessarily that these things are actively bad for you – just that you’re wasting your money taking talcum powder capsules.”
“Gummy vitamins are a red flag for me,” Medlin says, explaining that they contain a lot of colourings and sugar or sweeteners. “You can’t get a meaningful amount of any nutrients in them because of this,” she says.
If you struggle to take pills, Medlin recommends trying a mouth spray or tincture instead of a gummy.
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“Titanium dioxide is a banned colouring that was used in the supplement industry for years,” explains Medlin. “That means that some supplements in your cupboards or at the back of the shelves in your local health foods store might still contain it.”
Titanium dioxide isbanned because of concerns over its potential to cause harm to human health so be sure to double check any of the supplements you own don’t contain it and throw them away if they do.
We’ve all seen celebrity-fronted supplements advertised on the Tube, but Medlin says that doesn’t automatically make them legit and it’s best to avoid these products without doing research into them first. “As someone who works in the nutritional supplement industry, I can tell you, [celebrity supplements] are the wild west.”
“Be very wary of any brand that doesn’t place their science team front and centre of their marketing,” she says. “If they don’t appear on the website, the products might be made by people without qualifications in nutrition.”
Long ingredients lists
“Supplements that contain a little bit of everything actually contain a lot of nothing,” Medlin says. This isn’t necessarily the case for vitamins, she caveats, as often when it comes to vitamin supplements we only need very small amounts.
But for things like herbal preparations, essential oils and amino acids, we actually need really large amounts to elicit any of the beneficial effects we see in studies, according to Medlin. “Often companies cram in tiny amounts of buzzy ingredients because people are looking for them rather than having any interest in the required dose to have benefits,” she adds.
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