Thursday, December 18, 2008

Guide to Choosing Nutritional Supplements

You're in the store, staring at the row upon row of nutritional supplements (all promising better health, longevity, and anti-aging, of course) with a look of complete bewilderment on your face and a growing pit of anxiety in your stomach. Which one? All of them? Ah, screw it . . . and you grab the most expensive one that you've seen advertised online and tv because you're sure it must be the best.

Thankfully there's some standards that we can look for in a nutrition supplement if we want to put a little research into it. To start with, here's six tips to ask the company (and of course, if you can't get ahold of anybody, it's probably not the best brand to choose).

1. Absorption. Surprisingly, a lot of us don't think about what happens once we swallow the pill or liquid. We feel better because we made a healthy choice and go happily on our way throughout the day whether our bodies are actually benefiting from the nutrients or not. The truth is, not all vitamins are created equal: some are held together or encapsulated by substances that our bodies can't break down very well, which means that we don't actually use all of the nutrients that might be in that pill.

2. Peer-reviewed Research. This is a huge one because so few companies will actually submit their products to a completely separate organization for scrutiny -- and then publish the results. Most companies will do their own research and pass that information off to you, which as you can imagine, is potentially biased not as reliable as the same study done by people with no financial interests in the results. Find out if the brand you're interested in does this and if not, look elsewhere.

3. Quality Control. Believe it or not, what it says on the label might not be what actually goes into the product. There have been studies done on popular supplements that found that they contained 60% or less than what the label claimed. Upsetting? Find out what kind of quality control tests your company performs so you can be assured that what it says is what you get.

4. Processed. Unfortunately, most companies use a heat processing system to make their products, meaning they heat all the ingredients in order to mix and form them. What this does is kill the enzymes (what our bodies need for absorbtion); it's over-processing the tablet, more or less. And since we all know that the closer to raw we get the more health benefits there are, look for a company that uses a cooling system to process their products.

5. Purity. It's true: most supplements on the market have undesirable fillers in them. From unnatural fillers to artificial sweeteners and coloring (that's especially true of children's vitamins), you may actually be consuming ingredients that are harmful to your body. Kind of an oxy-moron in a vitamin, wouldn't you say?

6. Balance. This takes a little bit of research, but it's necessary to know that in the case of a multivitamin, all the nutrients are present in the correct proportions for our body's optimum use. For example, we need a certain amount of magnesium and potassium to properly absorb calcium, so something with a high calcium rate and an inadequate amount of other microminerals probably wouldn't be all that beneficial to you.

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