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How do I Choose the Best Supplement?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many people find that taking nutritional supplements can be an easy and effective way to improve overall health and well-being, or to target specific health needs. To choose the best ones, it is necessary to be well informed. This means doing your homework and knowing exactly what supplements you should be taking for which specific results. Dosage sizes, possible interactions, and other relevant information should also be considered.

Though most of your standard nutritional needs should come from a balanced diet, many people choose to take a multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement every day. Other common ones include vitamin C, vitamin B, vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3s, just to name a few. They exist for virtually any issue under the sun, including to improve memory, promote weight loss, increase energy, and even increase muscle mass. Scientific data to prove or disprove their effectiveness is often conflicting, but many people believe that they are beneficial. Most will not do any harm when taken by a healthy individual and in the correct dosing amount, but exceptions do exist, and people who are considering taking them may want to talk to a medical professional first.

If you are seeking some specific benefit from a supplement, it is helpful to research those that you are considering taking to find out what their intended purposes are. Since many similar supplements are manufactured by different companies, it might also be helpful to go online and read reviews. Surprisingly, many websites that sell them offer customers the option to review the product. You might be able to find comments about a certain item's effectiveness, or lack thereof, compared to other similar ones. Always be sure to read the label carefully, checking the listed ingredients and additives. The staff at many health food stores are often quite knowledgeable and will be able to help.

Be wary of any dietary or nutritional supplements that promise astonishing results, such as to increase metabolism and burn fat to promote quick weight loss. Most of these "miracle" pills simply do not work, and some can actually be dangerous. When choosing the best products, as with choosing any other item related to your health, use common sense and make sure that they will not interact with any other drugs you are taking. Just because something is "natural" does not mean it cannot be harmful or cause a dangerous interaction.

Often, it is best to choose and take supplements under the guidance of a medical professional. A doctor will be able to run tests to determine if you have any underlying medical issues that will need to be treated, and then he or she can recommend the best options for you. It is also important to remember that even the best ones cannot replace a healthy diet and lifestyle, and they should be used in conjunction with, not instead of, an overall healthy way of living.

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Discussion Comments

By LisaLou — On Nov 05, 2012

There is a big difference in price in a lot of supplements. I used to buy dietary supplements from the supermarket because they were cheap. After going to some nutrition classes I started wondering if there was a difference between these supplements and others in the health food store.

I learned there is a difference between synthetic vitamins and a whole food supplement. The whole food supplements are made from food, just as the name suggests. Some of the vitamin supplements you buy in the store are made from products in a laboratory and are not made from whole foods.

You could spend a lot of time reading up on nutrition and supplements, but I like to know the supplements I take every day are made from food and are giving my body the nutrition and energy I need.

Some of the weight loss dietary supplements that are on the market scare me. I would rather lose weight by reducing my portion size and exercise than relying on a weight loss supplement.

By honeybees — On Nov 05, 2012

I rely on supplements to get the right amount of calcium I need in my diet. I don't want to get osteoporosis and know that getting the right amount of calcium is important. There are very few dairy products that I like and I know I don't get nearly enough calcium from the food I eat, so taking a calcium supplement is something I do every day.

By golf07 — On Nov 04, 2012

I think one mistake people make is thinking that taking a nutritional food supplement can make up for eating a poor diet. It can be easy to eat junk food and then rely on a supplement to make sure you get some of the nutrients you need for the day. While this is better than not taking a supplement at all, this is the wrong way to go about it.

Nutrition supplements are there to give us nutrients we need that we might not be getting from our food, but we should try to get as much nutrition as we can from our food. I drink orange juice most every day for breakfast and know that it contains vitamin C.

If I feel like I have a cold coming on, I will increase my vitamin C intake by taking a supplement. I know I want more vitamin C and would rather get this in a concentrated source from a supplement than drinking gallons of orange juice.

By sunshined — On Nov 03, 2012

There are so many different companies out there that sell vitamin supplements that it can be hard to know which ones are the best. I have been in the health and nutrition industry for many years and am pretty picky when it comes to the supplements I take.

I am a big label reader, but I also buy vitamin dietary supplements from companies that I know and trust. I also look to see if the companies do scientific research and studies on their supplements. You will end up paying more for a quality supplement, but I think it is well worth the money to ensure you are getting quality products.

By siliconsnail — On Jul 17, 2010

@GoldenRatio: As poincare said, bioavailability is *very* important and is unfortunately not well understood by most consumers. Many of the cheap multivitamins (and even many name brand vitamins) have low bioavailability and poor capsule designs.

There is no way to tell a multivitamins bioavailability from the packaging, but with a little research you will find third party studies of many multivitamins that will be very helpful. Do yourself a favor and do your homework before you spend money on a supplement! Good luck!

By poincaire — On Jul 17, 2010

@GoldenRation - You were told right. The bioavailability of a supplement is a huge factor and will ultimately determine how effective it will be. Bioavailability is basically a measure of how efficiently nutrients will be absorbed by the blood stream. In other words, you might be digesting a pill with 1000 mg of Vitamin C in it, but only a portion of this 1000 mg will be absorbed into the blood stream—the proportion of Vitamin C absorbed in the blood stream over the Vitamin C digested is the bioavailability.

Obviously, by now you must realize how important this factor is. The back of your multivitamin might say that it supplies you with 100% of the daily value for a given nutrient, but if the bioavailability for this particular nutrient is low, then you won’t be getting the full 100%.

By GoldenRatio — On Jul 17, 2010

I was told that one of the most important factors in a multivitamin was the “bioavailability” of the vitamin. Can anyone tell me exactly what this means and how I can determine the bioavailability of my multivitamin?

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