4 Additives & Fillers in Vitamins You Should Skip!
One of the top questions I get as a dietitian is, “How do I pick a good supplement?” I also get the comment, “My mom always says I am just peeing my money out. Is this true?” Or the other question, “Do I really need to care about additives and fillers in vitamins?”
I think it’s great when people ask me these questions about supplements. Because here is the truth: depending on what company you are supporting with your hard-earned dollars, you really actually could just be “peeing your money out.” Yes, sad, I know.
But quality supplements really can be a great way to support your health.
Knowing how to pick a good supplement is key to avoiding wasting your money or to end up taking a supplement that isn’t supporting your health the way you “think” it is. While this can be a bummer to hear at first, no stress. Because there are quality supplements in this world and it’s not as hard as you think to find them.
There are quality supplements in this world and it’s not as hard as you think to find them.
This is the first part, in a 3-part series that I am going to write about supplements. Today I am going to focus on additives and fillers in vitamins to look for on the label that will prevent absorption of your supplement. Simply put, if you can’t absorb what you are swallowing, there is no point in taking it.
Many supplements sold at Walgreens, Target, Walmart, GNC, and CVS are NOT absorbed by the body for many reasons as I will discuss below. There is a reason the supplement is so cheap at these retailers. It’s not designed to make you well. It is designed to get you to buy it and THINK it will make you well.
Do I think this should be illegal? Sure. But I also don’t want the freedom of buying supplements taken away (seriously, making the FDA fully responsible is the worst thing we could do, so don’t get sucked into believing this is a solution, it’s not! There’s another blog I need to write!).
Education about the additives and fillers in vitamins and what makes a quality vitamin is what will make bad companies fail - because consumers won’t by their products. When you take the time to read this series you’ll be more empowered for future supplement purchases. Because if you know what to look for, you will buy a quality supplement.
Because if you know what to look for, you will buy a quality supplement.
Here are the top 4 additives and fillers in vitamins you should skip to make sure your body is absorbing your vitamins & not just peeing them out.
Sugar in all forms is a common additive in low-quality products. If you see sugar added, make sure you KNOW it’s needed in the product. There are exceptions to every rule, but having sugar listed on your zinc, iron, etc. is definitely not needed. The exception would potentially be a powder formula that needs it for taste. But again, sugar is not needed in a general vitamin, mineral, or multi you swallow, especially because it can block micronutrients from being absorbed into the body. High fructose corn syrup contributes to deficiencies in chromium, magnesium, zinc, and copper, while sugar blocks the absorption of vitamin C, calcium and magnesium.
b. When looking at a label you should not see: cane sugar, corn syrup, cornstarch or solids, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, sucrose, tapioca syrup, rice syrup, etc. Basically sugar in any form.
2. Binders, Fillers, and Flow Agents
These always come in the forms of words you’ve never heard before on a label! They are added for many reasons, including:
Making the pills bigger and easier to grab (but also to subconsciously make them seem more valuable - we have been trained to think that bigger is better),
Making the ingredients stick together
Making the ingredients run more smoothly through the manufacturers machines during processing.
They usually aren’t chosen with a great deal of care and caution for your health.
a. You don’t want to see on a label: croscarmellose sodium, crospovidone, disodium hydrogen phosphate (DSP), polyvinyl alcohol, shellac, sodium starch glycolate, talc.
3. Artificial Colors
Take a look at ingredient lists for any of the following synthetic (artificial) food colorings (which all sadly are approved by the FDA, just one of the many examples as to why the organization is not the solution to quality control!).
- FD&C Blue No. 1
- FD&C Blue No. 2
- FD&C Green No. 3
- FD&C Red No. 3
- FD&C Red No. 40
- FD&C Yellow No. 5
- FD&C Yellow No. 6
Do pills really need to be red, blue, or yellow to take them? Um, no. Sadly, colored supplements are pitched as a way to create better compliance, especially among children. However, this is not the main reason companies use artificial colors. It is, in fact, according to the FDA to “offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; provide color to colorless and ‘fun’ foods.”
To simply summarize, companies use artificial dyes to cover up a poor-quality product so that you don’t know that its been diminished due to exposure to light, air, temperature, and moisture (all of which degrade vitamins and minerals and make them poor quality, which is why you want to see visual evidence if any of these have happened!). The word you are looking for is, “Yuck!”
Worse yet, artificial dyes have been tied to hyperactivity in children. (Source) The evidence for this connection is compelling enough that in Europe it is required to have any product with artificial dyes to contain a bright warning label for parents that states: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Don’t you think if you were giving something to your child that could make them hyper or creates irrational behavior, you would want the option to say “Yes” or “No” and not have it be a secret?
Ever notice that the tablets you take are shiny? Yeah, not the best thing for absorption. Plus, tablets are the least absorbable form of supplements (unless coming from an extremely reputable brand that shows that its products break down within 20 minutes). It’s because it keeps the product shelf stable longer, and while this is good for the company’s profits, this is not the best for you. Especially because additives can decrease the solubility, reducing the vitamin’s ability to readily disintegrate and be absorbed by your body.
a. What to look out for: MSG, yeast extract, natural flavors, carnuba wax and titanium dioxide.
So check your supplements and see if they contain any of these ingredients. This is a great starting point to read the labels and switch to a “better-for-you” option the next time you buy.
Want better-for-you, high quality supplements without having to do the leg work? I always give full access to my pharmaceutical grade supplements recommendations via Fullscript. (You’ll have to insert your email to see the shop and recommendations - it’s how the system works). This only includes options that I’ve read the label and vetted the ingredients myself.
Also, switching vitamins may not be as straightforward as it may seem. Don’t be surprised if it feels surprisingly difficult to give up the vitamin you’ve “always taken” or to stop giving your kids the Flintstones vitamins you took as a kid. Our brains and emotions can make simple switches a little more complicated some time. Your brain is resistant to any new choice it feels takes away a habit it doesn’t have to think about. But if you can acknowledge the discomfort and remind yourself of the many reasons that it’s worth the effort in the long run, it can happen and become a new habit worth keeping.