I recently had an interesting conversation with my Uber driver. He is from Eastern Europe, well spoken and well-informed, except for his knowlege—or lack of—about nutrition. He asked me what I do for a living, and when I told him I’m a health writer with a certificate in nutrition education he proudly told me that he eats meat five times a day.
“What about fruits and vegetables?” I asked.
“I don’t think vegetables are a good value and fruit is too high in sugar,” he said. “I rely on vitamins.”
I didn’t have time to go into how we need fiber and that he is at higher risk of colon cancer because he is getting only a few grams of fiber a day. He didn’t seem to care because he is more interested in building muscle and bulk than revving up his immune system with antioxidants.
This interaction made me think about what savvy shoppers want to know (or should know) about the multi-nutrient supplements they buy, especially if their diet is less than optimal.
We are overfed and undernourished, which is the main reason to take a multi-nutrient supplement. Here’s what shoppers need to know when shopping from your online or retail store.
- Different brands of nutritional supplements may look the same in the bottle, but the crucial issue is whether or not they are bioavailable—absorbed and used by the body after they’re ingested. According to the Physician’s Desk Reference, only 15% to 25% of any nutrient in a tablet or capsule is bioavailable. Mineral nutrients are necessary for the assimilation of vitamins, which is all the more reason to take a multinutrient supplement that is bioavailable.
- The dosage on the label matches the dose in the pill.
- The product is non-GMO with as many organic ingredients as possible.
- It contains absolutely zero additives, colors, fillers, and allergens.
- The raw materials (especially herbs) have been tested for toxins such as mercury or lead, and are consistently void of contaminants.
- The factory in which the product is produced follows good manufacturing standards. Products are uniformly consistent in quality so shoppers know they are getting the same high quality product every time.
- The supplement is high-potency, full-spectrum and based on the latest scientific research.
- The multi is not so focused on “designer” ingredients that it neglects the basics.
- It must contain all the right ingredients in significant amounts.
- A good multi-nutrient should contain at least 400 mg. of calcium and 200 mg. of magnesium.
- Excess levels of B2 are dangerous, yet almost all “broad spectrum, high potency multiples” contain too much of this vitamin. It should contain no more than 5 mg. of B2 (riboflavin). High levels of riboflavin that contain far more than our dietary requirement may promote the aging of not only our eyes, but also our skin and organs.
- The major carotenoids in our diet include alpha-carotene beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Does the product contain only beta-carotene?
- Does the product contain iron? It should not be taken continuously by most people.
- The supplement should contain a balanced and complete spectrum of vitamin E compounds. Most dietary supplements contain only large amounts of alpha tocopherol because of the high IU amount that can be placed on the label. Yet, a healthy diet contains a mixture of vitamin E compounds … and an excellent supplement should simulate a typical diet. This would contain a blend of tocopherols and tocotrienols in amounts and ratios found in a typical diet, insuring a balanced intake of vitamin E-like compounds.
- Researchers consider the natural source of vitamin E and beta-carotene far superior to the synthetic version. The human body assimilates and retains the natural form of vitamin E two to five times as efficiently as the synthetic version. Typically, the form of vitamin E is listed in small print on supplement bottles, with “d-alpha” indicating natural and “dl-alpha” meaning synthetic.
- Synthetic beta-carotene should never be taken as a nutritional supplement.Mixed natural carotenoids are now widely recommended by natural health practitioners as one of the safest therapeutic and preventative nutritional supplements.
- RDAs were originally established to prevent symptoms of vitamin deficiency disorders. Long gone are the days when people got vitamin deficiencies such as scurvy, beriberi and pellagra. But nutritionists and other health experts are increasingly worried that most American adults do not get healthy amounts of vitamins in their diet. For instance, the RDA for vitamin C is 60 mg daily needed to prevent scurvy. However, researchers have found that to experience optimal health we need to do more than just meet these minimal RDAs. The RDAs were developed as a guide to prevent deficiencies, not necessarily to ensure that we are getting optimal levels of nutrients for long-term health. In actuality, experts frequently recommend that we take up to 5 to 10 times the RDA of several nutrients to support the proper functioning of our bodily systems.
- Does the product include the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which have been found to reduce the incidence of cataracts by 22%.
- Fat-soluble vitamin D supplements are available in two forms. Vitamin D3 is believed to exhibit the most potent cancer-inhibiting properties and is the preferred form of the vitamin.
- Women who got at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, from supplements or foods such as green vegetables and fortified cereals, had 31% fewer colon cancers than those who got less than 200 micrograms in the long-running Nurses Health Study (Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 1999). Folate from food didn’t work as well as from supplements. No one knows why, although bioavailability problems may be to blame. Although only women were studied, other research suggests folic acid has similar effects in men.