HEALTH: Shop Smart: How to Buy Supplements


By Dr. Lydia

Entering a health food store with hundreds of bottles of supplements can be overwhelming. I observe people daily; eyes glazed over, bottles picked up, considered, and put back on the shelf. It is confusing! Supplement companies want you to think that their product is the best. How do you compare ingredients, dosages and brands and find what is right for you? Here are some tips:

The dosage is very important. All supplements label amounts of ingredients on the side of the bottle. Sometimes these dosages are per capsule and sometimes they are the suggested daily dose; which can be a number of capsules. Often people will neglect this detail and think the dosages given are always per single capsule. In actual fact, you may need to take a number of tablets to get a sufficient dose of the ingredients. This is helpful when comparing bottles; make sure you aren’t comparing apples to oranges.

Try to avoid “kitchen sink” products. The more ingredients on the label, the smaller the amount of each ingredient will be in the capsule. Getting an adequate dose of the active ingredient is key to reaping the benefits of taking a supplement. Getting a tiny bit of everything essentially means you get nothing. Choose targeted products with just a few key ingredients; I like less than six. The exception: a multivitamin.

You get what you pay for. There are reasons some supplements are less expensive than others. The way ingredients are manufactured, the amount of filler, the chemical form of vitamins and minerals, and the freshness of herbs are all important. Particularly, herbal or botanical products see declining quality with bargain prices. I am not saying you always have to purchase the most costly product; but pick it up, read the ingredients and see what is closest in your price range.

Avoid proprietary blends. A proprietary blend does not list the amount of individual ingredients. Manufacturers will develop proprietary blends for two reasons: to prevent the competition from copying their product and/or to prevent telling the consumer that there is very little active ingredients in the product. I avoid these supplements because I feel consumers and prescribing practitioners need to know the dosage of each ingredient. Or, as previously mentioned, you might only get a tiny amount of the active ingredient.

Find a shop with professional lines of supplements. There are some lines of products that are only available to a practitioner with a license. This does not mean that retailers do not carry these products for the public. Generally, they are not found at the large retail chains. Call around to find a specialized store that is linked with a practitioner; like my dispensary, BN Natural Foods. The professional lines are built on practitioners recommending their products. They know naturopathic doctors will not settle for poor quality products for their patients. By and large, professional lines are quality products.

If you are unsure about what supplements are right for you a naturopathic doctor can point you in the right direction. Questions? Email


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