Supplementation is an integral part of any healthy diet and I am a big fan of it. I think it’s really important to hit most of your nutritional needs from food but even on the healthiest diet, this isn’t always possible. Let’s face it, you’re never going to hit 100% of every nutrient on a daily basis.
The world of supplementing can feel a little overwhelming. Look online and you’ll find 1000’s of supplements, each claiming to do something different. The truth is that you don’t have to take every nutritional supplement under the sun. The important thing to do is take a long hard look at your diet and assess your nutritional needs. In cases, this may mean you don’t have to supplement every day. For instance, if I eat some wild salmon for dinner and have some flax in my morning smoothie, then that is my omega 3 goals reached for the day and I usually won’t take a fish oil supplement on that day. I come across people all the time who just mindlessly swallow supplements like it’s some kind of miracle cure. It’s really not necessary.
My strongest advice would be to only buy pharmaceutical grade supplements. Avoid high street stores like the plague. This includes health food stores unless they specifically sell pharmaceutical grade supplements. You’ll also find that most high street stores brands won’t store supplements in correct conditions – for instance, have you ever bought fish oils from a high street health store and found that they taste a bit funky? I certainly have. Fish oils should be stored in cool conditions, preferably a fridge, and not at room temperature on a warm shelf in the middle of summer. Fish oils are so fragile and storing them at the wrong temperatures will cause them to go rancid.
This post details 3 main differences between pharmaceutical and store-bought supplements. I will try and keep it short and sweet. Feel free to shoot me any questions though. I’m not a practitioner nor do I have any affiliations with any brands, but I’m only too happy to share experiences and brands that I use and have benefited from.
Regulation and Labeling: Pharmaceutical supplements go through a thorough testing process in order to meet FDA standards. Food grade supplements are not regulated and there is no control over how they are made or labeled. This means what you read on the label may not necessarily be the same as whats in the supplement.
Fillers and Contaminants: Pharmaceutical grade supplements must be at least 99% pure in accordance with pharmaceutical standards and prohibited from containing any fillers or contaminants. They go through rigorous checks and rechecks. Food grade supplements, on the other hand, are permitted to contain fillers and are not checked for contaminants. This may cause a build-up of toxins which could result in side effects. Food grade supplements do not have to state they have used fillers.
Bioavailability: The bioavailability of a supplement is a very important one. This is how much of the supplement is absorbed by your body. Pharmaceutical grade supplements are subject to strict guidelines and are only manufactured in FDA approved facilities. They must also be absorbed by the body within 45 minutes. Food grade supplements are not tested for bioavailability. This can be a tricky subject because bioavailability often differs from one person to another, but a high quality regulated pharmaceutical product will give you a much higher rate of bioavailability than a food grade supplement will.
Text and photography by Sid Ali, Food photographer, London