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How to read a nutritional supplement label

Picking which nutritional supplement to buy in today’s market can be extremely confusing and frustrating. With thousands of supplements to choose from and thousands more variations of ingredients on the shelves; it takes a great deal of vigilance and education to see the forest for the trees and pick the best one. For example, a quick search for “protein” on any bodybuilding site will bring up up 400+ protein related products. We can’t be expected to look through every single one of them. What we can do is know what to look for when we do read a label. Supplements can not only be very expensive, but have a major impact on your health and well-being, so knowing what you need how to get it are vital. Below are some things to look out for when making a selection.

Proprietary blends: A “proprietary blend” is a group of ingredients that are all lumped into one big blended ingredient, and only the dose of the combined ingredient is stated on the label. Companies’ use this labeling technique under the guise of protecting their formula from knocks-offs. Which, in other industries is beneficial ;( i.e. coca-cola does not disclose its flavoring ingredients with good reason) but in the supplement industry, this technique is widely used by manufacturers strictly for profits. It allows them to use lots of cheap ingredients and smaller amounts of expensive (and effective) ingredients. In most cases, the proprietary formula has no testing, backing, science or proof of effectiveness to warrant protecting it from fakes. If there was a product for $20,000 called Super Gold Blend and was labeled with a proprietary blend stating: 500 grams (beach sand, 24 karat gold) – How much would you pay for it? One gram of gold is worth about $51 today, sand is worth $0; so it’s worth somewhere between $0 and $25,500 but the people selling it to you won’t tell you which. If it was all gold, they wouldn’t be in business for long. For this reason, proprietary blends should be avoided in almost all instances.

Efficacious dose and extracts: Now that you know how much of an ingredient you are getting, you must determine if that amount is going to be effective for you. Many products have the right ingredient, but just don’t have enough of it. Having something is of no use if it’s not enough. You may have $0.50 in your pocket, but if it’s a $1 double cheeseburger you’re after, you might as well not have anything. Many vitamins, minerals and herbs have clinical studies to support their results at particular doses. In other instances, recommendations are available from experts, doctors, holistic healers and others about what is the right amount to take. Do your research and find out how much you need. If it’s an herbal extract, be sure to look at the potency of the extract. Herbs can be refined down in different concentrations or even not at all, so be sure the product uses a high potency version of the herb. A quick internet search for any vitamin, mineral or herb with “dosage” after it will give you all of the information you will need to make an informed decision.

Ingredient source: The type of vitamin, mineral or herb also makes a big difference. Ingredients can be sourced from many different places and not all are equal. There can vary in both potency and absorbability. Take calcium for instance. The FDA recommends 1000mg of elemental calcium per day. By elemental, they mean the pure calcium molecule. However there are multiple types: calcium citrate, calcium carbonate, calcium gluconate, coral calcium, oyster shell calcium and others to choose from. Each one of these has a different concentration of elemental calcium and a varying degree of absorbability. 1000mg of calcium carbonate is only 400mg of elemental calcium, so you will need 2500mg of calcium carbonate to get 1000mg of elemental calcium. The same is true for most.

Overall, know what you are getting. Don’t get caught up in marketing speak and smoke and mirrors of profit seekers. Do your own research and educate yourself. Make a point to know what it really is that you need and how to find it. Your health is the most important thing you have.

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