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The Importance of Label Reading: Choosing Quality Nutritional Supplements

The Importance of Label Reading: Choosing Quality Nutritional Supplements

~ written by Katolen Yardley, MNIMH, Medical Herbalist

When choosing a multivitamin or nutritional supplement, reading over the list of non medicinal ingredients is as important as checking out the strength of the active ingredients.

The August, 1990 issue of the Alive Magazine, an informative Canadian Holistic Health Magazine states that in the last 30 years, food additives alone have increased by an alarming 1000 %! Numerous additives, fillers and colorings placed in over-the-counter products, pharmaceutical and prescription pills and packaged foods have been documented to have cumulative and harmfuleffects on our health.

Label reading is crucial for your health and the health of your family.Take the time to educate yourself and consciously choose to avoid ingesting additional chemicals in your food, supplements and prescription medication.

Not all nutritional supplements are manufactured with the same diligent care and high standards as others. While there are many excellent, quality oriented companies committed to improving the health and wellbeing of their clients; there are unfortunately also other companies are clearly more concerned with profit than quality.

In my opinion if a supplement contains a long list of non-medicinal ingredients, complete with chemical sounding names, then it is likely NOT the best quality product. Become an expert label reader. Take the time to read the fine print of all pills and supplements, compare one item with another brand, educate yourself on the names of harmful ingredients and learn how to avoid products containing unnecessary ingredients.

What to look for when choosing high quality supplements? The absence of some non-medicinal ingredients is as important as what the product actually contains. Below is a list of non-medicinal ingredients that are best avoided.

According to “A Consumers Guide of Food Additives”, the highly recommended book written by Ruth Winters and published in 2004, the following ingredients have detrimental effects in the body:

  • Aspartame and artificial sweeteners: Aspartame contains methanol, (a poison, which breaks down into formic acid and formaldehyde in the body. Formaldehyde is a deadly nerve toxin) and phenylalanine. Excessive levels of phenylalanine in the brain has been found to decrease the levels of seratonin in the brain, leading to emotional disorders such as depression. It was shown in human studies that phenylalanine levels of the blood were increased significantly in human subjects who chronically used aspartame. Aspartame is also linked to many documented adverse reactions include: headaches/migraines, dizziness, seizures, nausea, numbness, muscle spasms, weight gain, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, anxiety attacks, slurred speech, loss of taste, tinnitus, vertigo, memory loss, and joint pain, to name a few…
  • FD & C Blue # 2: a colorings agent derived from coal tar, shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies.
  • FD & C Red # 3: another coal tar derivative, also shown to be carcinogenic, may interfere with message relay in the nervous system. (Also found as the coloring agent in maraschino cherries!)
  • FD & C Red # 40: Allura Red: one of the newest colors, not yet established as safe!
  • FD & C Yellow # 5: Tartrazine, derived from coal tar, used primarily in the soft drink industry and found in some lower quality childrens multivitamins. Chemically similar to aspirin, those allergic to aspirin often have an allergy to tartrazine. It is stated in the above reference book that over 60 % of over the counter prescriptions contain tartrazine. Reactions include asthma, rhinitis, rashes, nasal congestion, and changes in mental behavior.
  • FD & C Yellow # 6: (also known as monoazo sunset yellow) an artificial coloring agent, thought to cause allergic reactions.
  • Hydrogenated Soybean Oil: is converted from polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat and can affect the levels of fat in the blood leading to clogged arteries.
  • Avoid any products containing Sucralose, Splenda or any other artificial sweeteners.
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil: contains MSG, a flavor enhancer linked to allergic reactions, headaches, dizziness,throat constriction and chest pain.
  • Hydrolysed Protein: Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein: a flavor enhancer that also contains MSG, it is recommended that there be a limit placed on the amounts of MSG consumed in children due to its neuro toxic affects in the body. For additional information on MSG click here.
  • Mineral Oil: derived from petroleum based products, known to be carcinogenic, with a toxic effect on the immune system.
  • Lactose: a milk sugar that is best avoided for any individuals with a dairy sensitivity.
  • Isopropyl alcohol: a solvent, also used in antifreeze compositions, prepared from peopylene obtained in the cracking of petroleum.
  • Hydrolysed polyvinyl alcohol: a synthetic resin, thought to be carcinogenic and tumor inducing.
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): a preservative thought to be toxic to the kidneys, by converting into toxic substances or cancer causing agents. BHT isprohibited as an additive in the United Kingdom.

While I will refrain from listing the brands of common commercial supplements best to be avoided; I will suggest however, that choosing health minded, (often) smaller companies committed to quality and consumer education is the best choice, rather than supporting big pharma companies…and it does pay off to take the time to read the labels of nutritional supplements before selecting your choice.Remember: The non-medicinal ingredients are as important as the nutritional content and vitamins listed.

In particular, keep your eyes open for listings of sugar, sucrose and artificial colorings (no one needs unnecessary sugars and fillers, particularly in their multivitamin!).

As some companies conveniently omit the listing of the fillers used in their products, one can not assume that simply not listing the ingredients means that the product is clean. Specifically look for the listing of the non-medicinal ingredients or find a comment stating that the product specifically does not contain additives and fillers.

A positive indication of quality is companies which specifically state on their label, the absence of particular items. On the label, a high quality supplement should specifically list: “contains NO artificial preservatives, artificial colorings, sugar or starch, wheat and dairy”.

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