You take nutritional supplements for a reason, so the last thing you probably want to hear is that they can contain stuff you either don’t really want (as in ick!) or need. The thing is, nutritional supplements are no different to other processed food products – there are good quality ones and inferior quality ones. And just like inferior quality food products, there are supplements where manufacturers have cut corners. If you are tempted to buy supplements that seem to be at a price that’s too good to be true, check the ingredients list for the items below because there are fillers and items of no nutritional value.
While carrageenan, one of many thickening ingredients in supplements, comes from seaweed, that doesn’t mean it’s as healthy as it sounds. Sometimes, the first sign of a low quality protein powder or a pre- or post-workout drink is the presence of carrageenan. Even though carrageenan originates from seaweed, it doesn’t seem to carry the healthful benefits that seaweed is known for. In fact, it often causes inflammation in the digestive system, intestinal lesions and may even cause malignant tumors as it has been shown to do in animal studies.
2. Artificial Colors
It’s a strange trick of science that people often believe food tastes better if the color matches the taste – for example, something that tastes like strawberries should be some shade of red. If a frothy strawberry smoothie was gray, for example, most people would not drink it. However, many low-quality nutritional and food products still use artificial coloring, even when natural coloring is available. Artificial coloring has been linked to a number of health issues.
This ingredient is synthetic and is a very cheap, ineffective form of Vitamin B12. Up to 40% of the population in the U.S. is deficient in vitamin B-12, and if this ingredient is in the vitamins they take to avoid Vitamin B-12 deficiency, they will sadly not getting any relief from the symptoms of the deficit. Look for supplements containing methylcobalamin instead, which as a bioactive form absorbed in a way that it can be immediately used.
4. Folic Acid
Folic acid is a synthetic compound that’s supposed to increase the body’s level of folate. There have been several studies that seem to indicate that much of the population can’t convert folic acid to folate, and in fact, it may even be linked with cancer. The good news is that you can get the benefits of higher folic acid levels without many of the risks associated with it. Take folic acid that uses Metafolin of 5-MTHF, because it’s the only form of folate that crosses the blood-brain barrier and does not mask Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Metafolin is known for lowering homocysteine blood levels and presents no risk of accumulation in the body.
5. Magnesium Stearate
Most supplement manufacturers use this additive to help powder flow through the equipment they use to manufacture the supplements. If the machines run better, more product can be created in less time, making the supplement cheaper to produce. However, what magnesium stearate actually does is create a fatty bubble around the supplement, making absorption by the body less effective. Even high-quality supplements may be encased in magnesium stearate. Be sure to check the “other ingredients” section of the nutrient label.
6. Artificial Sweeteners
Unfortunately, some of the ingredients in supplements, such as unflavored amino acids, vitamins, minerals and whey protein have a flavor that has been described as “not good” all the way to “horrible.” Sweeteners make these ingredients more tolerable. Sweeteners such as sucralose, acesulfame-potassium and aspartame may cause a number of health concerns. Better, find supplements sweetened with Stevia if possible.
7. Vitamin E as Only Alpha-Tocopherol
There are at least 8 forms of vitamin E, but low quality supplements tend to use only-alpha rather than mixed tocopherols. Because Vitamin E is found in many forms in our diet, we should look for Vitamin E that has mixed sources in our supplements as well. However, this costs a lot more. The use of only alpha-tocopherol as Vitamin E may possibly be the source of some of the negative press we’ve heard recently about this necessary nutrient.
If you are going to the trouble of balancing your diet with the use of supplements (although I should interject at this point that unless you have dietary restrictions, you should get all the nutrients you need from a balanced diet), you might as well ensure they are good ones and do the job you’re paying them to do. Agreed?