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Oct 01, 2013

Is the supplement aisle at Whole Foods going to start taking over the real estate from the leeks, pear cider and paper towels? I’m fairly proud of my ability to efficiently navigate the aisles but I find myself overwhelmed when I step foot among the long rows of colorful, little bottles. So being the curious type, I thought I would do a little research to help shed light on the complicated world of supplements.


First and foremost, most vitamins and minerals should be obtained from the consumption of everyday organic, whole foods --note from swallowing a pill. This allows you to obtain not only the desired vitamin C from an orange but also all the other nutrients, fiber, and enzymes that can aid in your body's absorption of the vitamin C.


Unfortunately, in today’s environment obtaining vitamins and minerals through food sources alone may not be enough. Modern techniques--such as pesticide and hormone use, harvesting food before it’s ripened, and monocropping--are diminishing the nutrient content of our food. In order to “supplement” our diminished diet, a vitamin or mineral supplement may be more important than ever before.

But how does one choose what’s right for them?

The old adage is as true for supplements as it is for most things: you get what you pay for. Buy a cheap supplement, and you’ll get cheap ingredients difficult for your gut to absorb, insufficiently tested for purity and potency, and containing extra unnecessary substances like fillers, flavors, and dyes.

Before we go further, it is important to understand two basic concepts:



A fancy word for how well a nutrient is absorbed in your body. As I mentioned earlier, the closer to real food that a supplement is, the more likely your body is to embrace it with open arms. Below are the forms that are easiest for our bodies to absorb.



Most absorbable form...

Vitamin A

Mixed Carotenoids


Thiamine Hcl



Vitamin D



Folate, Metafolin, MTHF

Vitamin E

Mixed tocopherols, mixed tocotrienols

Vitamin K

K1 and K2


Citrate, Ascorbate


Glycinate, taurate, citrate, aspartate


Se-Methylselenoysteine, seleomethionine


Citrate, gluconate


USP Certification

‘USP’ stands for U.S. Pharmacopeial, and pharmacopoeia is the practice of drug-making. USP Certification is given to those nutrients tested to ensure the highest quality. When shopping the aisles, look for the USP label indicating that the product has met all of the following standards:

  • Disintegration - how quickly a supplement can be dissolved or absorbed

  • Strength - the amount of specific vitamin or mineral is in each pill

  • Purity - free of heavy metals, pesticides, solvents and other pollutants

  • Expiration - when the supplement will no longer meet these standards

So after selecting a high quality supplement, below are some helpful hints for ingesting them:

  1. Take them with food. This stimulates the release of digestive juices and enzymes which help you absorb the nutrients better.

  2. Divide the suggested daily amounts between two meals. Breakfast and dinner is usually easiest to remember.

  3. Take all supplements regularly and continuously for a set time frame. Try to take at the same time of day for 30 to 45 consecutive days.

  4. Avoid synthetic vitamin A and vitamin E. The synthetic forms of vitamin A to avoid are acetate or palmitate forms. The synthetic form of vitamin E to avoid is dl-tocopherol forms. These synthetic vitamins are not well absorbed and can aggravate the liver.

Also, if you are experiencing symptoms of gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, it may help to take a digestive enzyme to aid in the absorption of the supplement. Look for brands that have varied types of enzymes to help digest both fat (lipase), protein (protease), and carbohydrates (amylases). Digestive enzymes are usually in their own section of the supplement aisle.

Always remember that a supplement should compliment a diet rich in organic, whole foods, never a replacement. Be sure to seek a professional doctor or nutritionist to determine which supplements are right for you.


Contributed by Laura Lemon

Student at Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition, Nutrition Consultant Program


Sources: Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. Foundations of Nutrition. Penngrove: Bauman College, 2013. Waldman, Helayne. "Choosing A Healthy Supplement." GreenMedInfo. N.p., 27 July 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2013. Mercola, Joseph. ""Is Your Stomach Hijacking Your Health?"" N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2013. Image: