I have been purchasing supplements for Simply Health for quite a few years, and I am also doing a lot of ordering for Grove Health Supplements and Foods. Despite my time in the industry it can still be overwhelming to sort through the vast amount of supplements that are available to us, and select quality products.
I thought I would share with you some things I've learned that will make it easier to decipher what's worth spending your money on, and what quite frankly, is not.
THE HIDDEN STUFF:
1) First things first: look at the non-medicinal ingredients. That's where the worst stuff lurks. If you see: titanium dioxide (not harmful in small amounts, but not necessary either), artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium or ace K), or any dyes, put the bottle down. None of those things are required to be included in your supplements, and more than anything it speaks to the integrity of the company that you are purchasing from.
Note: In Canada, non-medicinal ingredients are required by law to be written on the label. This means there are things you should expect to see, such as what the capsule is made out of (usually gelatin or vegetable cellulose), and what the machines are lubricated with during the encapsulation process (magnesium stearate). If the capsule has an enteric coating, its ingredients must be labeled on the bottle as well. If you do not want any of these non-medicinal ingredients, your only other option is a powder or liquid.
Note #2: Magnesium stearate does have some controversy surrounding its use (mostly that it can slow the absorption of your supplements; not necessarily in relation to toxicity), but it's rare to find a capsule that doesn't have it. I promise that I will be the first to bring in supplements without it if we ever see anything like that in the near future. But for now rest assured: the amounts present in your capsules are teeny-tiny, and it's more of a concern for those taking handfuls upon handfuls of supplements a day.
*at Grove Health Supplements and Foods I was very diligent about this before I brought any supplements in, so you can be confident there is no weird stuff hiding in any of your supplements.
2) Look at the marketing on the label or on the website. Do you see "miraculous" testimonials directly on the packaging? Are the ingredients hard to find amidst all the propaganda? Even worse, is there a money-back guarantee advertised directly on the packaging?
All of these things are red-flags for me for a number of reasons.
a) Natural health products are intended to get to the root of a person's ailment. They are not designed as targeted drugs. Eg. You can buy Tylenol and know it is for a headache no matter what the cause of the headache, whereas in natural health we would ask a few questions to first determine what's causing the headache. Do you have any food intolerances? Are you eating enough throughout the day? Do you have a sinus condition? Is it muscle tension? You can see that I cannot give everyone the same product for the same reason; that is the antithesis of what we do. If a company offers a money back guarantee, they are obviously more concerned about the sale of the product than ensuring that it is effective for what YOU specifically need it for.
Manufacturers and consumers need to remind themselves that buying supplements is NOT like buying a TV. Sales and purchase of products that effect your health should be done with caution, and a company that operates with that in mind is going to be more likely to provide you with a quality product.
2) In my experience, products that are radically testimonial and marketing driven (I use the word radically because all companies are market-driven; they've got to make money!), are rarely able to provide the science or even strong anecdotal evidence behind their claims.
THE ACTUAL GOODS
3) If you are purchasing anything with minerals in it and you see the word (oxide) in brackets, put it down (unless you plan on using magnesium oxide as a laxative). This is a very poor absorbing form of a nutrient, and very inexpensive for a company to manufacture. Unfortunately this translates into expensive excrement for you. Generally speaking, if you see the word citrate, bisglycinate, or chelate lots, you should be doing alright.
*in terms of multivitamins/multiminerals and single minerals, I was careful to bring in minerals free of oxides (except for magnesium oxide, for its use mentioned above), and all multivitamins are converted (meaning the body has less work to do to make the vitamins useable).
THE COMPANY ETHICS
4) Just because a company is reputable and has a bunch of awesome products does not mean that ALL of their products are awesome. I've seen leaders of quality in the industry cheap out on supplements that branch out their company to make extra profit. But pay attention to the three things above and you will be less likely to get suckered into a companies clever marketing.
I hope these things help you when purchasing your supplements!